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stock marketIf you have lost money in a securities investment, obviously you would be happy to recoup some of those funds.  Many companies that offer assistance with recovering lost capital, however, are likely fraudulent.  A company may sound credible, have authentic looking documents, and a fancy website, but if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is a scam.

Tips for Investors

  • Be a Skeptic. Assume that any “recovery” company that reaches out to you is a fake until you can independently verify it is a legitimate company – especially if it claims to be registered with FINRA. Look it up on FINRA’s BrokerCheck site and use the contact information on the BrokerCheck report to reach out to the firm.
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Yes, technically, but in reality, no.  Under the law, a FINRA securities arbitration award can be appealed, but practically speaking, arbitration awards are rarely changed when appealed.   Indeed, under the Federal Arbitration Act and the Florida Arbitration Act, a party has the legal right to file an action in court to vacate or modify an arbitration award.  Arbitration awards, however, are very difficult to overturn or modify.

Indeed, federal and state courts give substantial deference to an arbitration panel’s award, notwithstanding that arbitration panels are not necessarily bound to follow the law and can even misapply it with impunity.  Instead, an arbitration panel may enter an arbitration award that it believes results in a fair or equitable outcome.

As a result, an investor who brings a securities arbitration claim in the FINRA forum should expect finality when the panel makes its award, and the investor cannot reasonably expect to convince a court to change the result of a panel’s arbitration award.

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An investor who is abused by his or her securities broker cannot sue in court.  Instead, the investor must sue the broker or the brokerage firm in arbitration before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, otherwise known as “FINRA.”

FINRA maintains its own arbitration forum that shares certain features of court litigation, but is also different in many material ways.  Here are seven key differences between FINRA arbitration and litigation in court:

  • First, FINRA staff processes the claim filed by the customer against the broker or firm and administers the entire case, not the clerk of court.
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How to handle the finances after the death of a loved one.

In September 2016, the Florida Office of Financial Regulation issued a Consumer Alert titled “Managing Finances After the Death of a Loved One.”   The alert makes a number of helpful recommendations to take following the death of a family member or loved one including:

  • Gathering important documents such as wills, Social Security cards, insurance plans and brokerage account statements.
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The financial industry is highly regulated, and for good reason.   People entrust their stockbrokers and financial planners with some of the most important decisions in their lives, namely, what to do with their hard earned life savings.  Money is important, and especially for the elderly and retired, it cannot always be replaced.   If money is lost in bad investments, there might not be time to earn more money back.

When brokers and planners go bad.

And let’s face it, some brokers go bad.   Sometimes, brokers steal money from their clients. Sometimes, brokers make foolish or unwise recommendations.  The broker might do this because he or she is struggling to meet a sales quota, or maybe he or she is just no good at his or her job.

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Virtually every new account application with any brokerage firm contains a pre-dispute arbitration agreement. This agreement requires that any dispute you have with your stockbroker or brokerage firm be filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) instead of being filed in court. The FINRA arbitration process differs from the court system in several key aspects: the case will be decided by 1 or 3 arbitrators instead of a jury; there are no depositions or interrogatories permitted in FINRA arbitrations (with very limited exceptions); FINRA arbitrations are not a matter of public record (the only aspect of FINRA arbitration proceedings that is made public are the awards); and there are extremely limited grounds for appealing a FINRA arbitration award.

The way a FINRA arbitration case generally works is this.

Claimant files the initial document that begins the FINRA arbitration called the Statement of Claim.  It identifies the parties, contains the allegations of wrongdoing, and sets forth the amount of damages being claimed.  Once it is filed with FINRA, FINRA will serve it on the named Respondent.   The Respondent then has forty-five (45) days to file a Statement of Answer.

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Prime Bank Instrument Fraud 

If you have been approached to invest in “prime bank” instruments, don’t do it!  It is a scam. Prime bank scams purportedly involve the trading of prime bank instruments issued or guaranteed by financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, or the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank.  Promoters of these supposed prime bank investments claim investors are guaranteed to receive high-yield returns in a matter of days or weeks, with little or no risk.  According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, these investments do not exist.

Fraudsters may use complex and official-sounding terms such as, debenture, bank guarantee, private funding project, offshore trading program, trading facility, or guaranteed bank note, in an effort to make the scheme seem legitimate.  Oftentimes, promoters will claim that the instruments are available by invitation only to select clients. They may claim these are the “secret” way wealthy people make money and will cite a requirement for secrecy if a potential investor asks for references.  Some goes so far as to have investors sign official-looking non-disclosure agreements.

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One scam still making the rounds is the fake check scam.  The way it generally works is this.  You receive an authentic-looking check in the mail that appears to be from a real company. Along with the check, you receive instructions to deposit the check and transfer a portion of the money to someone else.  A few days later your bank informs you that the check was counterfeit and you are now liable for the amount of money transferred out (usually thousands of dollars) and the bank fees for checks you had written that bounced.

FINRA recently issued an Investor Alert warning of two variations of the fake check scam – the mystery shopping scam and the modeling scam.

How the check cashing scams work

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Illegal sales practices: Wells Fargo To Settle

Wells Fargo & Co. has agreed to pay $185 million to settle federal regulators’ investigation for illegal sales practices.  The bank acknowledged that it pushed employees to open as many as 2 million accounts without customers’ approval.  As a result of the scandal, Wells Fargo said, effective January 1, 2017, it would eliminate any sales goals for credit cards, checking accounts and other retail banking products.

The bank’s CEO, John Stumpf, who is set to testify before the Senate Banking Committee on September 19, said he takes responsibility for the improper sales tactics. He indicated that the bank now has improved its training programs and supervision.  The bank also indicated that the employees involved in the improper sales practices were low-level employees and the practices were not intended to increase bank profits.

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What Does it Mean to Trade Stock Options?

Options are complex investments and can carry substantial risk. Before you decide to trade options, you should understand the basics. Options can be used with a wide range of financial products.  This blog will focus on the most vanilla of examples, trading stock options.

What are Options?