Many people end up investing with con men and women and losing most of their life savings. But there are some ways to avoid getting mixed up with people who are willing to say anything and do just about anything to steal your money.
As a former securities enforcement attorney, I saw some very common patterns when I interviewed victims of investment fraud. By following a few simple steps you can cut down on the risk that you are giving your money over to a scam artist.
Let me start by saying that it is important to understand that there is risk involved in ALL investments. One only has to look as far as the Fall of 2008 to see that losses can mount in the most respectable and trustworthy of investment opportunities. Having said that, you should be sceptical of investments that offer very large returns or use verbage such as "guaranteed" or "promised" investment returns. Very rarely, if ever, is a legitimate investment opportunity something that can be guaranteed. In fact, in most states, such as Ohio, it is per se illegal to make such promises. Avoid investments that advertise like the above.
The next thing you can do is make sure you do the proper due diligence before handing your money over to the investment officer. Depending on the amount of money that you will be investing, it is often wise to get a accountant and a securities attorney involved to at least look at the offering circular. If the investment opportunity does not have a well thought out business plan and investment circular for you to review then it is unlikely to be a good opportunity; it is also very likely to be a scam. Very often, I would ask victims of investment fraud why they did not get a securities attorney involved, and they would commonly respond that they did not want to spend the money. I always thought that was a little crazy because oftentimes these victims would give con artists $50,000.00 or more, but would be unwilling to spend $2,000.00 to $5,000.00 to have a CPA and/or an attorney look at the deal. If you are unwilling to hire a counselor to look into the opportunity, at the very least you should contact the Ohio Division of Securities. The Division can help you in two separate ways. The Division is broken down into a registration section, a licensing section, and an enforcement section. The first two--registration and licensing--are the sections that can be helpful when you are investigating a security or investment before you undertake it. If you are talking to the enforcement section, then it is likely too late and you have already lost your money to a con man. So if you are getting a call from an enforcement attorney, it is likely going to be a bad day.
You will want to call the registration section when you are dealing with the investment originator, meaning the individual or company that actually created the investment opportunity. In a majority of circumstances, state law requires that you register a securities/investment offering with the State. As such, if the investment is not registered with the state, then there is a strong likelihood that it is a scam because the originator is not in compliance with Ohio law. Also, you should contact the licensing section, which licenses Ohio broker-dealers and investment advisers. Oftentimes, the originator does not sell the investment or securities offering, it has a third party, called a broker, sell the investment on its behalf and the broker gets a percentage of the sale proceeds (sometimes called a commission) for successfully selling the product. With few exceptions, if the broker is not licensed with the state and they are selling securities/investments, then they are committing a very serious crime. If your broker is not licensed, then this is a serious red flag as to the validity of the investment offering.
By taking the above factors into consideration, and at the very least, contacting the Division of Securities, you will be mitigating the risk that the investment you are considering is lawful and legitimate.