Do you know the best ways you as an investor can get cheated?
The North American Securities Administrators Association recently identified some of the most common ploys used today to cheat investors:
* Ponzi schemes. You know this as a pyramid scheme. It's named after Charles Ponzi, a wonderful swindler from early in the last century. The idea is to pay off early investors with money that you raise from later investors. Who makes the money? The people who constructed the Ponzi, which eventually collapses under its own weight.
* Unlicensed individuals selling securities. That's relatively simple. No license, no sale. Those who bypass the license requirement often turn out to be predators offering bogus investments.
* Unregistered investment products. These people also bypass state registration requirements to pitch whatever it is they are promising. In almost all cases, the only profits go to the promoters, and investors are generally left holding the empty bag.
* Promissory notes. Empty promises can leave these notes worthless. Sometimes, promissory notes can be a good investment, but that usually applies to sophisticated or corporate investors. Those that are marketed broadly to the general public often turn out to be scams.
* Senior investment fraud. This is where seniors are targeted with all kinds of fraudulent schemes to bilk them out of their money. They can involve unsecured promissory notes and other investments that are either fraudulent or unsuitable for seniors based upon their particular financial needs.
* High-yield investments. An easy one: the tip from the brother-in-law. You know - promises of triple-digit returns and risk-free guaranteed high-yield instruments. Sure. I'll tell him when he comes in.
* Internet fraud. These are becoming more and more common, where various promoters are using what are now known as online boiler rooms and fake Web sites to lure investors into "pump and dump" stock schemes. Generally, they promote penny or microcap stocks on the Internet.
* Affinity fraud. The baddies are increasingly targeting religious, ethnic, cultural and professional groups.
* Oil and gas scams. Promoters promise quick profits from record oil prices and continued Middle East instability.
While we're at it, keep your eyes open for penny stocks, private placements and investment seminars.
Franklin Widmann, NASAA's president and chief of the New Jersey Bureau of Standards, warned investors to contact their state or provincial securities regulator with any questions about an investment product, broker or advisor before making an investment: "One phone call can save a lot of money and heartache."
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