March is Fraud Prevention Month, a time when Albertans are reminded to brush up on their knowledge of scams and fraud to better safeguard themselves and those they care for. One of the most prevalent types of fraud is investment scams, which impacts experienced and new investors alike. In a recent study conducted by the ASC, 48% of Albertans believed they had been approached with a potentially fraudulent investment opportunity.
By understanding the tell-tale signs of fraud and remembering the fundamental principles to making suitable investment decisions, Albertans can recognize, avoid and report investment fraud and financial abuse. Remember the following red flags to safeguard your savings or those of someone you care about from an insidious investment scam.
Leveraging fears or anxieties:
A go-to tactic for scam artists is tapping into the financial stressors you (their target) may have. This could include the anxiety of not having enough for retirement, leaving a legacy for loved ones or the fear of missing out on great investments. Regardless, be mindful of anyone trying to tap into your fears or anxieties when offering an investment. It is important to pause and do your research before making any investment decisions. Do an online search to see if there are any news articles, social media posts or disciplinary actions taken against the individual or company. Even if the offer isn’t fraudulent, it may not be right for you so it’s important to understand it and its risks.
New friends or love interests taking an interest in your financial wellbeing:
As we connect with friends and family and make new friendships, be wary of any new person in your life who takes an immediate interest in your finances. Fraudsters often work hard to establish trust, learn the fears or anxieties you may have, understand how much they can steal and how to manipulate you. Be sure to create boundaries and do not share your personal financial information or anything about your private matters. Also, be mindful of the personal information you share about yourself online – adjust your Facebook, or other social media account settings to “private”, and carefully consider any friend requests. Don’t share personal or financial information with anyone you’ve just met online or in-person unless you can verify their identity and have thoroughly researched any financial offers they’ve given you.
Investment offers from unregistered individuals:
By law, anyone selling investments in Alberta should generally be registered with the ASC. Check to see if the firm or individual pitching the investment opportunity is registered by checking the Canadian Securities Administrators’ (CSA) National Registration Search on CheckFirst.ca/check-reg. If the investment offer comes to you from a friend, ask where it originated from and ensure the individual or firm that offered it to your friend is registered. Contact the ASC if you suspect it may be a fraudulent investment or need assistance in confirming registration.
Investments promoted as exclusive offers just to you is a clear red flag of fraud. Scam artists often try to take advantage of those interested in investing by promoting opportunities to “get in early,” or claiming that unless you move fast, you are going to miss out on the latest trend or great “opportunity” to make money. Exclusive or time-sensitive offers drive false urgency and prevent you from researching and talking to others about the investment. Investments will always be available, and no credible financial advisor should ever rush you into a decision.
Growing your investor knowledge can help you recognize, avoid and report investment fraud. If you are interested in learning more about how to stay safe and protect yourself from fraud, consider attending a virtual or in-person Fraud Prevention Month event. If you are interested in attending a free event this month, please visit CheckFirst.ca/events.
If you feel you or someone you care for may be involved in an investment scam, do not let the embarrassment or fear keep you from speaking up. You can contact or file a complaint with the ASC at www.asc.com or call us toll-free at 1-877-355-4488.
Author: James MacTavish
Senior Advisor, Investor & Industry Education
Alberta Securities Commission