STATE AUDITOR JOHN MORRISON ANNOUNCES ANNUAL TOP TEN LIST OF INVESTMENT SCAMS
HELENA, Mont., March 25, 2005 - State Auditor John Morrison today released his annual top ten list of the most common ploys being used to cheat Montana investors out of millions of dollars.
"Unlike David Letterman's top ten, there's nothing funny about this list," said Morrison. "Scams like these really hurt Montana investors. I urge investors to keep their guard up anytime anyone offers an investment opportunity. It pays to remember that if an investment sounds too good to be true, it usually is," said Morrison.
The following ranking of the top 10 threats to Montana investors for 2005 is based on the order of prevalence and seriousness as seen in Montana over the past year. Similar scams were identified by an annual survey of members of the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA):
Ponzi Schemes: The premise is simple: pay early investors with money raised from later investors. The only people who make money are the promoters who set the Ponzi in motion.
Unlicensed Individuals Selling Securities: Anyone selling securities without a valid securities license should be a red alert for investors. Remember: No license, no sale. You can contact the Montana Securities Department to determine if a person is appropriately licensed.
Unregistered Investment Products: Con artists bypass stringent state registration requirements to pitch viatical settlements, off-shore investments and ATM leasing contracts, and other investment contracts with the promise of "limited or no risk" and high returns. Again, contact Montana Securities Department to check out your investment.
Promissory Notes: Empty promises can leave these notes worth less than the paper on which they are printed.
Senior Investment Fraud: Because of their access to a lifetime of savings, seniors continue to face investment fraud by con artists peddling unsecured promissory notes, viatical settlements and other investments that are either fraudulent or unsuitable for them based on their particular financial needs.
High-Yield Investment Schemes: Con artists lure investors with promises of triple-digit returns through access "risk-free guaranteed high-yield instruments" or something equally deceptive. Remember; "risk free" and guaranteed is an unlikely combination.
Internet Fraud: Stock promoters are using online "boiler rooms," instant messaging, and fake websites to lure investors into "pump-and-dump" stock schemes.
Affinity Fraud: Con artists are increasingly targeting religious, ethnic, cultural, and professional groups.
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Annuity Sales Practices: Senior investors should beware of the high surrender fees and steep sales commissions agents often earn when they move investors into annuities from traditional securities products. Annuities are legitimate products, but may not be right for a person's financial objectives. Check closely to understand whether such product is right for your financial situation.
Oil and Gas Scams: With oil topping $50 a barrel and continued Middle East instability, regulators warn that con artists may renew schemes promising quick profits in oil and gas ventures.
Three scams also were cited for "dishonorable mention," including penny stocks, private placements, hedge funds and investment seminars.
Before making any investment, Morrison urged investors to ask the following questions: Are the seller and investment properly licensed and registered? Has the seller given you written information that fully explains the investment? Are claims made for the investment realistic? Does the investment meet your personal investment goals?
Morrison also urged investors to contact his office with any questions about an investment product, broker or adviser, before making an investment. "One phone call can save a lot of money and heartache," he said.
To inquire about the legitimacy of an investment opportunity, call the State Auditor's office toll free at 1-800-332-6148 or visit www.sao.mt.gov.