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Screenshot of a breaking news alert e-mail from Q2 2017
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has issued an Investor Alert warning investors to beware of financial scams in which con artists are posing as regulators to make fraudulent investment pitches.
Recently, financial fraudsters used FINRA’s name and logo in correspondence – including a fake signature from FINRA President and Chief Executive Officer Robert W. Cook – to create the false impression that FINRA provided guarantees related to an investment opportunity that was, in fact, an advance-fee scam. The Investor Alert contains an infographic of an actual fraudulent letter that highlights tactics used by scammers to build credibility.
Financial fraudsters go to great lengths to appear legitimate, making it difficult for investors to recognize their ruses,” said Gerri Walsh, FINRA’s Senior Vice President for Investor Education. “That’s why we are telling investors flat out that FINRA does not guarantee investments, and our officers play no role in facilitating investment opportunities. We want people to know that and to understand how they can verify who the real FINRA is.
A common advance-fee scam involves enticing investors into sending money to cover administrative or regulatory charges associated with a buyback of shares of stock that are currently virtually worthless or underperforming. Once investors send the money, they never see it again, nor any of the money promised from the stock buyback. Sometimes, the con artist will ask for additional money or simply disappear.
Recently, FINRA received a call from an investor targeted in such a scheme. The con artist mailed the investor an official-looking letter, purportedly from FINRA’s CEO, touting a guarantee. The letter contained numerous telltale signs of fraud, including the use of quasi-legal language throughout the document, repeated use of “guarantee,” and the incorrect name of FINRA and incorrect FINRA leadership titles.
In a separate fraud, e-mail pitches that purported to originate from FINRA’s CEO portrayed FINRA as a “recognized financial manager of the IMF,” notifying potential victims that “approval has been granted for the release and payment of your outstanding inheritance fund.”
The scheme further required the victim to fly to another country – outside of the jurisdiction of any U.S. regulator or law enforcement officer – to claim the “inheritance.” In these imposter emails, the victim is asked to provide personal information, including a copy of their passport, which is a common tactic used in phishing scams.
In order to avoid losing money in advance-fee, phishing or other types of scams, FINRA advises investors to hang up on the caller or delete the e-mails.
If you’re unsure whether an investment solicitation is legitimate, do your own independent search for the official number for the government agency, office or employee and call to confirm its authenticity,” Walsh added. “Cons lie, and they will lie about their affiliations to convince you to send them money or to collect your personal information.