Articles Tagged with securities

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SEC Whistleblowers

On January 23, the SEC announced that its whistleblower program will pay out to three whistleblowers a combined award of $7 million.  The whistleblowers’ awards were for helping the SEC pursue an investment scheme.

One whistleblower gave the SEC the initial information that launched the SEC investigation.   That whistleblower will receive more than $4 million.  Two other whistleblowers jointly provided additional evidence that also contributed to the SEC’s successful enforcement action.  Those two whistleblowers will split more than $3 million.

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AdobeStock_78797750-300x199It’s your money.  You worked hard to earn it. It’s taken years to save it. Now you need to protect it. Here are some tips to help you make more informed investment choices and protect yourself from investment scams.

  1. Check out the “salesperson.” Just because someone says they have a securities license doesn’t mean it’s true. We recently had a potential client call with a complaint about his “stockbroker” who we quickly discovered hasn’t been licensed since the 1990’s. Checking out purported stockbrokers is easy and free at FINRA’s BrokerCheck site. In addition to information about the securities licenses the individual has, it will show you his or her employment history, if he or she has ever filed for bankruptcy, and any customer complaints or charges by securities regulators.
  1. Don’t believe promises of little or no risk with high returns. The higher the returns, the riskier the investment. Period. 
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When you open a brokerage account, you most always agree to bring any future disputes that arise with your stockbroker or brokerage firm to FINRA for adjudication. This means you give up your right to a jury trial.

FINRA offers both arbitration and mediation services. In a nutshell, mediation is where a neutral third-party attempts to help the parties reach an amicable settlement. Essentially, the mediator points out what he or she sees are the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s position. In arbitration, one or three arbitrators (depending on the amount in dispute) hear testimony, review evidence, and render a binding decision. It is possible to utilize both methods in the same case.

Here are some of the main ways that arbitration and mediation differ.

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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.

FINRA Securities 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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Over $100 Million in Rewards Given to Whistleblowers

The SEC has announced that, as of yesterday, it has made more than $100 million in awards to whistleblowers under the SEC Whistleblower program.  Created by Congress as part of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010, the program has been up and running since August 2011.  After five years, the program appears to be a resounding success.

Under the whistleblower program, one who voluntarily provides a useful tip to the SEC that leads to the recovery of over $1 million in sanctions may get an award.  The information regarding a securities law violation must be independently known by the whistleblower and cannot be derived from another source.  The amount of the award is discretionary, but under SEC rules, the amount will be between 10% and 30% of the SEC’s recovery.  The amount may be adjusted based on the significance of the information provided, the degree of assistance provided by the whistleblower, the SEC’s interest in deterring future violations, and the whistleblower’s cooperation with a company’s internal compliance and auditing systems.  The Dodd-Frank Act also included anti-retaliation protections, creating both a private right of action for whistleblowers and enforcement mechanisms for the SEC.

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Brokerage account statements can be lengthy and complicated.  Having a basic idea of what you are looking at, however, can help you spot mistakes, unauthorized activity, and even fraud. Here are the key types of information generally found on monthly account statements and some potential red flags that warrant follow-up with your brokerage firm.

General Appearance

Account statements should look professional and not look altered in any way.  The brokerage firm’s information and logo should be uniform throughout the statement and should match all of the other documentation you have received from the company – trade confirmations, new account forms, and correspondence.