By Sheryl Smolkin
The Financial and Consumer Affairs Authority (FCAA) is warning Saskatchewan seniors to be aware of investment fraud scams. Roughly 30% of investment fraud claims received by the FCAA’s Securities Enforcement Branch come from seniors. And this number could be significantly higher as much of the investment fraud perpetrated against seniors goes unreported because they feel embarrassed, or are afraid they’ll be judged incapable of handling their own finances.
“They typically have pension plans, RRSPs, TFSAs and home equity so seniors make very appealing targets for fraudsters,” says FCAA Communications Consultant Matthew Barton. “The two big things they always tell seniors is ‘we want you to have enough money for a comfortable retirement’ and ‘You would like to leave a legacy for your children and grandchildren.’”
For example, in May 2014 Ronald Jerry Fast received a seven year sentence in one of the largest fraud schemes in Saskatchewan history.
He and his daughter Danielle Fast-Carlson ran a Ponzi scheme that defrauded approximately 250 investors of nearly $17 million. Most of the victims were elderly people from Fast’s hometown of Saskatoon.
He used money from previous investors in his Marathon Leasing Company to pay off new ones, creating the impression that he was able to deliver higher-than-normal returns to people who put their money into his business.
In another notable case, North Battleford financial advisor Adele Kaminsky entered a guilty plea in January 2015 in a wide-ranging case of investment fraud case. She sold investments in a company called Enviro-Can Private Placement through her company AK Financial Planning Services. Subsequently, she moved more than $500,000 to her personal bank account.
Here are some investment scams the FCAA says that people of all ages should know about and avoid:
Affinity Fraud: Con artists sometimes establish credibility by associating with an affinity group (like churches, sports organizations, or social clubs). They’ll spend some time getting to know the members of the group, and then they’ll ask if anyone’s interested in investing. They’ll also often tell you to keep the deal “hush-hush”, because it’s such a great opportunity. What that usually means is it’s a great opportunity for the con artist, not so great for the victims.
Ponzi Scheme: Ponzi schemes are also known as a “pyramid scheme,” because the people who invest first are at the top of the “pyramid.” They make their money by recruiting more investors to the scheme. These new investors pay fees, which go to the people who invested in the scheme before them. The people, who join the scheme later on (and make up the bottom of the “pyramid”), usually lose out when the scheme runs out of new investors.
Boiler Room Scams: These scams involve individuals claiming to represent a brokerage house and using high-pressure sales tactics, often offering investors an exceptional deal on stock. They’re called “boiler room scams” because the “salespeople” who call to offer you a “once in a lifetime deal” are usually calling from a room, called a “boiler room”, filled with other con artists on the phone doing exactly the same thing. The “brokerage house” typically owns most – or all – of the stock, which it actively promotes to drive the price up. Once the firm has sold its holdings, it stops promoting the stock. The price of the stock falls, and you lose your money.
RRSP Scams: These scams are often promoted in newspaper ads for RRSP “loans” that let you take advantage of a “loophole” in the tax laws to access your locked-in RRSP funds. In reality, the promoter encourages you use your RRSP holdings to purchase stock in a start-up company. In return he or she “promises” to loan you 60-70% of the value of the investment. The stock is often worthless. You can typically expect to get no funds from the promised loan and you may end up paying tax on the money you withdrew from your RRSP, even though you don’t have it.
Nigerian Letter Fraud: These letters have appeared in various forms through the mail or via e-mail since the late 1970s. They appear to be from a government official or higher-up who claims to have access to millions of dollars and needs help getting the money out of the country. All they need is for some kind soul to hold the money in your bank account. The sender of the letter will ask for your banking information and offer to give you a percentage of the proceeds in return for your “help”. Watch out! Once they have your banking information, they’ll empty your account.
“We encourage people even if they’ve called the police to also call the FCAA if they to report suspected fraud especially when it comes to securities, because we can open the investigation and we have tools and resources to help them out,” Barton says.
For more information on investment fraud, visit www.fcaa.gov.sk.ca/investmentfraud/