Commemorating "World Elder Abuse" Day, New Jersey Bureau of Securities Offers Fraud Prevention Tips for Senior Investors
NEWARK – For the commemoration of World Elder Abuse Day on Monday, June 15, the New Jersey Bureau of Securities, State Division of Consumer Affairs, and Attorney General's Office are calling attention to the types of investment fraud that all too often zero in on senior citizens.
Division of Consumer Affairs Acting Director Steve Lee said, "Through our Fighting Fraud and other initiatives, we are empowering senior citizens and all New Jerseyans to recognize scams and prevent themselves from being victimized. To anyone who has become a victim of fraud, we say don't be embarrassed, and don't let anything hold you back from getting the help you need and deserve. Contact the Division of Consumer Affairs or the Bureau of Securities and let us pursue restitution and justice."
Bureau of Securities Chief Laura H. Posner said, "Financial fraud is one of the fastest-growing forms of elder abuse. One in five Americans 65 or older are victims of financial fraud, costing Americans more than $2.6 billion per year. The single best way to avoid becoming a victim of financial fraud is to check before you invest. Contact the Bureau of Securities to learn whether the investment professional, and the product he or she is selling, are registered in New Jersey, and to learn about other concerns we may have flagged, before you send anyone money or make any investment decisions.
Bureau Chief Posner noted that the scams listed here are not limited to senior citizens or the elderly. Investment scammers see anyone who is 55 or older, whether working or retired, as a potential target. Within this age bracket they often target educated men, who are seen as having accumulated more wealth through hard work and saving. In other cases, scammers attempt to victimize older Americans, particularly if they exhibit signs of a decline in mental faculties.
Common Investment Frauds Targeting Senior Citizens:
Seniors are often targeted through the Internet, mail, phone, in-home visits and free "financial seminars" specifically tailored to large groups of seniors. While the sales pitch might change, the most common elder investment frauds tend to include the following:
- Unsuitable Investments. This happens when unscrupulous financial professionals place their senior clients with investments that are not suitable for their needs or age. For example, annuities and private placements are often inappropriately sold to seniors. These products may include significant penalties for withdrawing money before a certain date, or for transferring the annuity to another person. The also may provide high annual expenses as well as the loss of principal – leaving little or nothing for the investor to leave to his or her heirs.
- Affinity Fraud. This happens when victims make investment decisions based on the recommendation of a trusted "friend" based on their similar age, ethnic background, religious affiliation, or other affinity. There is nothing inherently wrong about sharing deeply held traits or interests with your financial professional. But there are plenty of scammers who have no qualms about using these connections to lure and keep victims. Bernie Madoff, for example, victimized many Jewish leaders and foundations who trusted him because he seemed to understand their specific concerns and support their causes.
- Senior Designations: Seniors are often induced to invest by individuals who claim to hold a specialized license or certificate in managing senior citizens' finances, such as by claiming to be a "Certified Retirement Planner," "Certified Senior Adviser," and "Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor." Call the New Jersey Bureau of Securities at 1-866-I-Invest to learn whether a given designation is legitimate.
- Free Lunch/Dinner Seminars: Scammers may invite senior citizens to "free lunch" seminars at which the guests are treated to a sales pitch for an unsuitable investment. Anyone who attends a "free lunch" event should be prepared for what follows the meal – and should remember that accepting the free lunch does not obligate anyone to make an investment. Consumers should not confuse a sales pitch for sound financial advice. The presenter will not know each attendee's specific financial circumstances and will not be in a position to know how they should best invest their money. Finally, seniors should never provide their personal information at these events. If you are interested in what has been presented, take the presenter's business card. Then research his or her background, and that of the firm, by visiting NJSecuirities.gov before taking any further steps.
- Telemarketing Scams: Telemarketing scammers often target seniors, knowing that seniors who live alone may be lonely, have time to listen and talk, and look forward to receiving telephone calls. Anyone who listens to a telemarketing pitch should be very cautious. Never buy anything over the phone or provide any personal or financial information to a caller. If you are pressured in any way to answer questions or accept an offer, simply end the conversation and hang up.
Red Flags That Indicate Someone Has Been Victimized:
The following red flags can help you recognize whether you or a family member has become a victim of elder fraud. If you or a relative has been victimized, immediately contact the Bureau of Securities at 866-I-Invest or NJSecurities.gov.
- You cannot locate the person to whom you gave your investment money or power of attorney over your account.
- You wrote the salesperson a check in his or her name.
- Your account has experienced unexplained, excessive losses.
- You no longer receive brokerage statements.
- You did not receive any documents in writing regarding your investment.
- You signed investment documents that you did not understand.
- You have added a new friend to a joint account, property title, will or mortgage. Or you have given a new friend power of attorney.
Avoiding Investment Scams:
By following these five easy steps, seniors and their loved ones can avoid becoming victims of fraud.
- Before working with an investment professional, contact the Bureau of Securities to learn whether if he or she is registered in New Jersey to sell securities or provide investment advice. Call the Bureau before you invest at 866-I-Invest or NJSecurities.gov.
- Review all of the information regarding the investment with a relative or person you trust.
- Allow yourself time before making a decision. Scam artists will often try to rush you into making an investment.
- Understand the inherent risk and restrictions regarding your investment. Some investments are very risky and can tie your investment funds up for a long period of time. If you don't understand what is being sold, don't buy it.
- Don't become a "courtesy victim." Many people who have become victims of elder fraud stated that they didn't want to be rude to the person soliciting the investment. Saying "no" is the best defense toward protecting your assets.
Additional Information for Consumers:
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs has launched "Fighting Fraud," a series of consumer education seminars that will reach all 21 counties during 2015. As a springboard to discuss various types of fraud, the "Fighting Fraud" seminars include footage from a law enforcement surveillance camera that was hidden in the overseas "boiler room" of a multimillion-dollar lottery and telemarketing scam. For more information about the "Fighting Fraud" events, to find a "Fighting Fraud" presentation near you, or to request a "Fighting Fraud" seminar for your community, or call the Division at 800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
The Division of Consumer Affairs and Bureau of Securities have made the following additional information available, free of charge to the public:
- The Division's FedUp (Senior Fraud Education & Protection) Handbook, available in English and Spanish.
- Consumer Briefs on a variety of consumer protection topics, available in English and Spanish
The Bureau of Securities can be contacted toll-free within New Jersey at 866-I-INVEST
(866-446-8378) or from outside New Jersey at 973-504-3600. The public is encouraged to visit the Bureau's website at NJSecurities.gov