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SCAM WATCH

Investment schemes involve getting you or your business to part with money on the promise of a questionable financial opportunity.

Common types of investment scams

Investment cold calls

A scammer claiming to be a stock broker or portfolio manager calls you and offers financial or investments advice. They will claim what they are offering is low-risk and will provide you with quick and high returns, or encourage you to invest in overseas companies. The scammer’s offer will sound legitimate and they may have resources to back up their claims. They will be persistent, and may keep calling you back.

The scammer may claim that they do not need an Australian Financial Services licence, or that that they are approved by a real government regulator or affiliated with a genuine company.

The investments offered in these type of cold calls are usually share, mortgage, or real estate high-return schemes, options trading or foreign currency trading. The scammer is operating from overseas, and will not have an Australian Financial Services licence.

Share promotions and hot tips

The scammer encourages you to buy shares in a company that they predict is about to increase in value. You may be contacted by email or the message will be posted in a forum. The message will seem like an inside tip and stress that you need to act quickly. The scammer is trying to boost the price of stock so they can sell shares they have already bought, and make a huge profit. The share value will then go down dramatically.

If you invest you will be left with large losses or shares that are virtually worthless.

Investment seminars

Investment seminars are promoted by promising motivational speakers, investment experts, or self-made millionaires who will give you expert advice on investing. They are designed to convince you into following high risk investment strategies such as borrowing large sums of money to buy property, or investments that involve lending money on a no security basis or other risky terms.

Promoters make money by charging you an attendance fee, selling overpriced reports or books, and by selling investments and property without letting you get independent advice. The investments on offer are generally overvalued and you may end up having to pay fees and commissions that the promoters did not tell you about. High pressure sales tactics or false and misleading claims are often used to pressure you into investing, such as guaranteed rent or discounts for buying off the plan.

If you invest there is a high chance you will lose money.

Visit ASIC’s MoneySmart for more information about investment seminar scams.

Superannuation

Superannuation scams offer to give you early access to your super fund, often through a self-managed super fund or for a fee. The offer may come from a financial adviser, or a scammer posing as one. The scammer may ask you to agree to a story to ensure the early release of your money and then, acting as your financial adviser, they will deceive your superannuation company into paying out your super benefits directly to them. Once they have your money, the scammer may take large ‘fees’ out of the released fund or leave you with nothing at all.

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You cannot legally access the preserved part of your super until you are between 55 and 60, depending what year you were born. There are certain exceptions such as severe financial hardship or compassionate grounds – but anyone who otherwise offers early access to your super is acting illegally.

Visit ASIC’s MoneySmart for more information about how super works.

Warning signs

  • You receive a call, or repeated calls, from someone offering unsolicited advice on investments. They may try to keep you on the phone for a long time, or try and transfer you to a more senior person. You are told that you need to act quickly and invest or you will miss out.
  • You receive an email from a stranger offering advice on the share price of a particular company. It may not be addressed to you personally, and may even give the impression it was sent to you by mistake.
  • An advertisement or seminar makes claims such as ‘risk-free investment’, ‘be a millionaire in three years’, or ‘get-rich quick’.
  • You are invited to attend a free seminar, but there are high fees to attend any further sessions. The scammer, posing as the promoter, may offer you a loan to cover both the cost of your attendance at the additional seminars and investments.
  • You see an advertisement promising a quick and easy way to ‘unlock’ your superannuation early.

Protect yourself

  • Do not give your details to an unsolicited caller or reply to emails offering financial advice or investment opportunities – just hang up or delete the email.
  • Be suspicious of investment opportunities that promise a high return with little or no risk.
  • Check if a financial advisor is registered via the ASIC website. Any business or person that offers or advises you about financial products must be an Australian Financial Services (AFS) licence holder.
  • Check ASIC’s list of companies you should not deal with. If the company that called you is on the list – do not deal with them.
  • Do not let anyone pressure you into making decisions about your money or investments and never commit to any investment at a seminar – always get independent legal or financial advice.
  • Do not respond to emails from strangers offering predictions on shares, investment tips, or investment advice.
  • If you feel an offer to buy shares might be legitimate, always check the company’s listing on the stock exchange for its current value and recent shares performance. Some offers to buy your shares may be well below market value.
  • Never commit to any investment at a seminar – always take time to consider the opportunity and seek independent financial advice.
  • If you are under 55, watch out for offers promoting easy access to your preserved superannuation benefits. If you illegally access your super early, you may face penalties under taxation law.

Have you been scammed?

If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.

We encourage you to report scams to the ACCC via the report a scam page. This helps us to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible. Please include details of the scam contact you received, for example, email or screenshot.

Scams that relate to financial services can also be reported to ASIC.

Spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.

Top ten scams of 2020

Bogus Internet merchandise sales continue to bedevil consumers, top complaint list.

In 2020, for the fifth consecutive year, the National Consumers League’s Fraud.org received more complaints about Internet merchandise scams than any other type of fraud, making up nearly one-third (29.39%) of complaints received.

Internet merchandise scams come in many forms—often involving bogus sales of high-dollar goods such as electronics, designer clothing, and even pets. Many victims first encounter these scams via online ads promising deep discounts on popular merchandise. When they click on the ads, they are directed to a website to enter payment information or are instructed to contact a scammer directly. Unfortunately, once the money is paid, the merchandise never arrives. In many cases, buyers report being contacted again and instructed to send more money to cover fake “shipping” or “insurance” charges.

Examples of Internet merchandise sales scams:

  • Anna, California. Paid $3,500 for a used Honda. The seller spoofed a third-party payment site and requested the funds in the form of iTunes gift cards. The car never showed up.
  • John, Indiana. Paid $600 for a Rottweiler puppy named Roscoe. Roscoe never arrived.
  • Dan, a farmer from Germany. Lost more than $22,000 being defrauded by a company posing as suppliers of animal feed. Goods were never shipped.
  • Jennifer, Texas. Bought nearly $400 worth of non-existent airline tickets through a fake site.
  • Irene, Chicago. Ordered NFL jerseys through a website claiming to be an official NFL gear vendor. What arrived were clearly low quality knock-offs.

“The convenience of online shopping is simply unbeatable for many consumers,” said John Breyault, who directs Fraud.org. “Obviously there are plenty of legitimate companies online, but there are also fraudulent sellers out to cheat consumers—and they are very good at what they do.”

Breyault offered the following advice for practicing safe online buying habits. (Even more tips available here.)

  • Do a price-check for similar merchandise before trusting an unknown online retailer, especially one advertising on Craigslist. If the price listed is far below traditional online retailers (think Amazon, Best Buy, Zappos) for a piece of popular merchandise (such as wireless phones, game consoles, sneakers, or designer clothing), the “deal” could easily be a scam.
  • Know who you’re dealing with. If the seller is unfamiliar, check with your state or local consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau. Some Web sites have feedback forums, which can provide useful information about other people’s experiences with particular sellers. Get the physical address and phone number in case there is a problem later.
  • Look for information about how complaints are handled. It can be difficult to resolve complaints, especially if the seller is located in another country. Look on the Web site for information about programs the company participates in that require it to meet standards for reliability and help to handle disputes.
  • Pay the safest way: Credit card. If a fraudulent transaction is disputed promptly, chances are the consumer won’t be on the hook for the fraud thanks to banks’ zero liability guarantees and federal consumer protections.

Other 2020 trends: Fake check scams making a comeback

In 2020, the top scams reported to NCL’s Fraud.org campaign remained Internet merchandise scams, fake check scams, bogus prize/sweepstakes scams, and refund/recovery scams. Interestingly, while complaints about refund/recovery scams remained a top category, their prevalence dropped precipitously in 2020. In 2020, these scams made up 15.77 percent of complaints received versus only 8.56 percent in 2020, an 84 percent decrease year-over-year.

While this may seem like good news for consumers, other trends are not so encouraging: fake check scams increased 12.55 percent, and phishing/spoofing scams increased by 27.28 percent year-over-year, respectively. The growth of fake check scam complaints is particularly worrisome, given that the 12.55 percent increase in 2020 followed a 15.16 percent increase in 2020.

Phishing/spoofing scam increase raises worries of breach-fueled fraud

With each major data breach—think Yahoo!, Equifax, Uber, and others— fears increase among cybersecurity experts that the information criminals glean from such breaches will help them craft more convincing phishing and spoofing campaigns. While it may be too soon to make a definitive link, complaints involving phishing and spoofing scams appear to on the rise. In complaints where the consumer was first contacted online, we received a 55.81 percent year-over-year increase in complaints. This follows a 17.22 percent increase in such complaints in 2020.

Phone as method of first contact continues to decrease

The phone’s days as the top gateway for fraudsters to their victims may be numbered. While the telephone remained the method of first contact for scammers in more than a third (34.29 percent) of complaints, web-based initial contact is gaining: 34.11 percent of complainants said their first brush with scammers in 2020 was on the Web. Another 15.18 percent said they first heard from a scammer via email. Both methods of contact were on the rise in 2020 (6.07 percent and 22.9 percent year-over-year increases, respectively, versus 28.94 percent year-over-year decrease for phone).

Older adults may be at increased risk

Complaints from adults ages 46+ made up an increased percentage of complaints to Fraud.org in 2020, while complaints from younger adults (ages 45 and below) decreased year-over-year. While it’s difficult to generalize about fraud trends affecting older consumers, this is a trend we’ll be keeping an eye on in 2020.

Meet the scams: The rest of the worst of 2020

Fake Check Scams
Consumers paid with phony checks for work or for items they’re trying to sell, instructed to wire money back to buyer

Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts
Requests for payment to claim fictitious prizes, lottery winnings, or gifts

Recovery/Refund Companies
Scammers contact victims and claim the consumer owes money on a fictitious debt or to help recover money lost in a previous scam

Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers
False promises of business or personal loans, even if credit is bad, for a fee upfront

Phishing/Spoofing
Emails pretending to be from a well-known source ask consumers to enter or confirm personal information

Computers: Equipment and Software
Scammers claim to offer “technical support” for computer problems and charge a fee to fix a nonexistent problem

Scholarships/Grants
For a fee, a “search company” offers to conduct customized search for scholarships or grants for students. Scammers take money and run or provide a worthless list

Friendship & Sweetheart Swindles
Con artist nurtures an online relationship, builds trust, and convinces victim to send money

Charitable Solicitations
Scammers contact victims claiming to represent non-existent charities (or real charities they don’t actually work for) and ask for donations.

Regardless of the type of scam, many instances of fraud can be avoided by remembering the old rule of thumb: If something seems too good to be true—it probably is.

Dgdoge.com Review: Is Dgdoge Scam? Should I Invest In Dgdoge?

An official website of the United States government

Here’s how you know

The .gov means it’s official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.

The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Ask questions. Fraudsters are counting on you not to investigate before you invest. Fend them off by doing your own digging. It’s not enough to ask for more information or for references – fraudsters have no incentive to set you straight. Take the time to do your own independent research. For more about information see Ask Questions.

Research before you invest. Unsolicited emails, message board postings, and company news releases should never be used as the sole basis for your investment decisions. Understand a company’s business and its products or services before investing. Look for the company’s financial statements on the SEC’s EDGAR filing system. You can also check out many investments by searching EDGAR.

Know the salesperson. Spend some time checking out the person touting the investment before you invest – even if you already know the person socially. Always find out whether the securities salespeople who contact you are licensed to sell securities in your state and whether they or their firms have had run-ins with regulators or other investors. You can check out the disciplinary history of brokers and advisers for free using the SEC’s and FINRA’s online databases. Your state securities regulator may have additional information.

Be wary of unsolicited offers.Be especially careful if you receive an unsolicited pitch to invest in a company, or see it praised online, but can’t find current financial information about it from independent sources. It could be a “pump and dump” scheme. Be wary if someone recommends foreign or “off-shore” investments. If something goes wrong, it’s harder to find out what happened and to locate money sent abroad.

Protect yourself online. Online and social marketing sites offer a wealth of opportunity for fraudsters. For tips on how to protect yourself online see Protect Your Social Media Accounts.

Know what to look for. Make yourself knowledgeable about different types of fraud and red flags that may signal investment fraud.

Red flags for fraud and common persuasion tactics

How do successful, financially intelligent people fall prey to investment fraud? Researchers have found that investment fraudsters hit their targets with an array of persuasion techniques that are tailored to the victim’s psychological profile. Here are red flags to look for:

If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Watch for “phantom riches.” Compare promised yields with current returns on well-know stock indexes. Any investment opportunity that claims you’ll receive substantially more could be highly risky – and that means you might lose money. Be careful of claims that an investment will make “incredible gains,” is a “breakout stock pick” or has “huge upside and almost no risk!” Claims like these are hallmarks of extreme risk or outright fraud.

“Guaranteed returns” aren’t. Every investment carries some degree of risk, which is reflected in the rate of return you can expect to receive. If your money is perfectly safe, you’ll most likely get a low return. High returns entail high risks, possibly including a total loss on the investments. Most fraudsters spend a lot of time trying to convince investors that extremely high returns are “guaranteed” or “can’t miss.” They try to plant an image in your head of what your life will be like when you are rich. Don’t believe it.

Beware the “halo” effect. Investors can be blinded by a “halo” effect when a con artist comes across as likeable or trustworthy. Credibility can be faked. Check out actual qualifications.

“Everyone is buying it.” Watch out for pitches that stress how “everyone is investing in this, so you should, too.” Think about whether you are interested in the product. If a sales presentation focuses on how many others have bought the product, this could be a red flag.

Pressure to send money RIGHT NOW. Scam artists often tell their victims that this is a once-in-a-lifetime offer and it will be gone tomorrow. But resist the pressure to invest quickly and take the time you need to investigate before sending money.

Reciprocity. Fraudsters often try to lure investors through free investment seminars, figuring if they do a small favor for you, such as supplying a free lunch, you will do a big favor for them and invest in their product. There is never a reason to make a quick decision on an investment. If you attend a free lunch, take the material home and research both the investment and the individual selling it before you invest. Always make sure the product is right for you and that you understand what you are buying and all the associated fees.

Where can I go for help?

If you have a question or concern about an investment, or you think you have encountered one of these frauds, please contact the SEC, FINRA, or your state securities regulator to report the fraud and to get assistance.

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Office of Investor Education and Advocacy
100 F Street, NE
Washington, DC 20549-0213
Telephone: (800) 732-0330
Fax: (202) 772-9295

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)
FINRA Complaints and Tips
9509 Key West Avenue
Rockville, MD 20850
Telephone: (301) 590-6500
Fax: (866) 397-3290

North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA)
750 First Street NE
Suite 1140
Washington, DC 20002
Telephone: (202) 737-0900
Fax: (202) 783-3571

Fraud and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Use these tips and resources to protect yourself from fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The warning bells are ringing. From regulators, law enforcement agencies, and consumer organizations around the globe, the message is clear: fraudulent schemes related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have arrived, and they are coming in many forms, from investment fraud to fake CDC emails to phishing scams. And unfortunately, efforts to stop the spread of the virus may put investors in a precarious position when it comes to avoiding fraud.

Image source: Getty Images

Job loss, financial strain and social distancing are conditions that present fraudsters with an opportunity to pounce. A study by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, Stanford Center on Longevity and Federal Trade Commission found that key risk factors for susceptibility to scams and losing money are social or physical isolation from others, active online engagement, and financial vulnerability.

In times like these, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. We are feeling strong emotions, are isolating for physical safety, and are uncertain what news may come tomorrow. So now is the time to move slowly, pay attention to details, and not make rash decisions. Be on the lookout for coronavirus investment scams and follow these tips to keep your money and personal information safe.

Coronavirus Investment Scams

FINRA has warned in the past that dramatic news coverage of viral outbreaks and pandemics can be an opportunity for scammers to pump inaccurate information into the marketplace to try to manipulate markets and investors. The coronavirus is no exception.

A recent Investor Alert from the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy warns of Internet promotions, including on social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure coronavirus, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. The alert cautions that these promotions often take the form of so-called “research reports” and make predictions of a specific “target price,” and urges investors to be wary of these promotions and to be aware of the substantial potential for fraud at this time.

Promotions of this type are the hallmark of a typical “pump-and-dump” scheme, in which investors are lured with aggressive and optimistic statements through press releases, social media, pop-up ads, emails and other promotions intended to create demand for a companies’ stock (the pump). Once the share price and volume spike, the cons behind the scam sell off their shares at a profit, leaving investors with worthless, or near-worthless, stock (the dump).

Microcap stocks for which there is little publicly available information are often the subject of pump-and-dump scams because it is difficult for investors to verify the information provided by promoters or the company.

A recent coronavirus scam that resulted in a trading suspension by the SEC involved third-party promoters without any affiliation with the issuer. These promoters used message boards, banner ads on websites, and pop-up ads to tout the efficacy of the company’s product against the coronavirus. The chatter around the company corresponded with increased trading activity in the stock. Another recent SEC trading suspension involved concerns about the adequacy and reliability of publicly available information about, among other things, a company’s purported international marketing rights to an approved coronavirus treatment. The SEC also expressed concerns regarding certain disclosures by the company regarding their issued and outstanding shares, and corresponding increased market activity in the stock.

Tips for Avoiding Coronavirus Scams

  1. Ask and Check. In other words, do your research. Before you make any investment decision, ask and check to verify information about any individuals you are dealing with and any investment product you are considering. You can use FINRA BrokerCheck, a free online tool to get information on brokers and investment advisors. And remember, when you invest in a company that is the subject of inaccurate or unreliable claims, it will cost you, and you may be stuck with your shares if trading in the company is suspended.
  2. Be skeptical. If an unknown company becomes the subject of press releases, emails and promotional materials hyping the company and its products to cure the latest pandemic, hit pause. Potentially fraudulent companies and their promoters often make exaggerated claims about lucrative contracts or acquisitions, patent-pending technology, potential revenues, profits or future stock price. Be wary if you are flooded with information over a short period of time, especially if the communications only focus on a stock’s upside with little or no mention of risk.
  3. Read a company’s SEC filings. Most public companies file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Check the SEC’s EDGAR database to find out whether the company files with the SEC. Verify these reports against promotional information put out by the company or against information that third-party promoters have sent out. Exercise caution if they don’t align. Also, be suspicious of solicitations to invest when products are still in the development stage, but where no actual products are on the market, or if the company’s balance sheets only show losses.
  4. Question companies new to the “cure” market. Changes to the name or business focus of a company may be a sign that a company is engaged in, or the subject of, a potential fraud. These changes can turn up in company press releases, Internet searches and, if the company files periodic reports, in the SEC’s EDGAR database. Watch out for companies that change their names or tout new disease-prevention product lines following extensive media coverage about a viral disease pandemic.
  5. Run it through theScam Meter. We’ve all heard the timeless warning “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” It’s great advice, but the trick is figuring out when “good” becomes “too good.” While there’s no clear way to know, in addition to applying the four scam tips above before you make any investment decision, our Scam Meter can help you tell if an investment you are thinking about might be a scam.

If you’re suspicious about an offer or if you think the claims might be exaggerated or misleading, please contact us. If you suspect that you or someone you know has been taken in by a scam, send a tip to FINRA or file a complaint.

Where to Find Reliable Information about the Coronavirus

We are all in information overload with news about the latest on the coronavirus and its global and market impacts. It pays to know where to look for accurate, unbiased information. Here are a few resources you might find helpful.

  • FINRA: FINRA’s COVID-19/Coronavirus page provides guidance, updates and other information to help stakeholders stay informed about the latest developments.
  • Securities and Exchange Commission: The SEC Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response page offers updated information on its response to COVID-19 and the related effects on our securities markets.
  • Commodity Futures Trading Commission: The CFTC has a dedicated webpage to highlight the Commission’s actions related to COVID-19.
  • Federal Trade Commission: The FTC’s page: Coronavirus Scams: What the FTC Is Doing provides helpful tips to avoid coronavirus scams and updates on how the FTC is responding to the pandemic.
  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: The CFPB offers consumers up-to-date information and resources to protect and manage their finances at: Protecting your finances during the Coronavirus Pandemic.
  • North American Securities Administrators Association: NASAA has an investor-focused page that reminds investors to beware of con artists looking to profit from fear and uncertainty and has established a resource page to collect COVID-19-related updates from state and provincial securities regulators.
  • Better Business Bureau: The BBB provides tips to be safe and avoid scams at: BBB Tips on COVID-19 (Coronavirus).
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation: The FBI released a public service announcement that cautions that scammers are on the prowl to steal your money, your personal information, or both.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The CDC and www.coronavirus.gov have extensive guidance and information updated frequently.

Subscribe to FINRA’s The Alert Investor newsletter for more information about saving and investing.

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