Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with financial advisors who fleece older clients. In our practice, we’ve seen countless scams where older investors are lured into fraudulent investments. Unfortunately, investment and financial advisors frequently exploit and rip off elderly clients, who are often trusting yet vulnerable.

Common ruses involve “estate planning” seminars that come with a “free” lunch or dinner. Afterwards, brokers are known to peddle scam investments to those who show up. Lately though, investors are aggressively pitched through emails, texts and phone calls. These swindles mushroomed during the pandemic. According to the FBI, the number of scams targeting Americans over the age of 60 exploded during the pandemic, with upwards of 92,000 victims in 2021 alone involving estimated losses of nearly $2 billion, a 74% increase from 2020.

In the typical phone scam, fraudsters call older Americans, who are most likely to pick up the phone and listen to a pitch – and send money. Even former FBI and CIA director William Webster was targeted in a Jamaican lottery scam in 2014 when a caller claimed he won a sweepstakes, reports CBS News. The unsolicited caller became threatening when Webster declined to pay $50,000 to collect the winnings.  “If it can happen to me, it can happen to you,” Webster warned in a public service announcement.

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C., is a Chicago-based investor rights law firm offering services nationwide to victims of investment fraud on a contingency fee basis. Our attorneys are currently investigating allegations raised against National Realty Investment Advisors LLC, a New Jersey-based real estate investment company. On June 7, 2022, NRIA filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code, Case No. 22-14539, in the Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey. The court filings indicate that NRIA raised money from investors through dozens of private placement investments over several years through dozens of subsidiary-LLCs.  If you invested in one of these dozens of private placements, your investment is certainly at risk. If you were solicited by a financial advisor, investment advisor, accountant, or lawyer to invest in these private placements, you may have an actionable claim to recover your investment.

In 2021, an investigation was launched by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Alabama Department of Securities, the New Jersey Securities Division, and the Illinois Securities Department into the working of NRIA and investor solicitations.  A whistleblower also filed a report with the SEC alleging NRIA was running a massive Ponzi scheme.  According to Barrons, the US Attorney’s office has also subpoenaed NRIA seeking testimony in front of a grand jury.  This article also points out that NRIA has over 2,000 investors holding $540 million in securities issued by NRIA and its myriad subsidiaries. In February 2021, a former employee of NRIA, Tom Salzano of NRIA was arrested by the FBI for using fake documents to try and extract money from a NRIA investor. Mr. Salzano has not been convicted and is presumed innocent.

When financial advisors or other professionals recommend private placement investments like those offered by NRIA, they have duties and obligations to their clients to fully vet the deals before the recommend them. It is likely that sufficient red flags existed about NRIA, most notably some of the outlandish representations made in commercials including on YouTube about its promised rates of return, that any professional recommending this investment could be liable to the investor for losses.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing clients who’ve suffered investment losses from advisors who sold fraudulent investments products and offerings. Firms like UBS argue these are frequently, “selling away” claims, suggesting they have no liability for the wrongs of their brokers who go far afield to rip off their clients. The big banks are wrong.

UBS Financial Services is suing Robert Turner, of McGregor, Texas, on fraud allegations and is asking a judge to seize Turner’s assets to help UBS offset the cost of repaying its customers for some $17 million in losses. Turner is a former broker with UBS.

The lawsuit alleges Turner solicited at least 23 UBS customers to buy “purported investments” issued by Fairfax Financial Corporation. UBS claims the products were not authorized by the broker and didn’t know Turner was selling them. Turner, 67, worked at UBS for 25 years before going to work for Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. in October 2021. He has since resigned from Stifel and has lost his license as a financial adviser.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices represents investors who’ve suffered losses from trading risky options contracts. All too often brokers recommend trading strategies that are far too risky for their clients, who end up losing a lot of money. One such investment approach is options trading, or the right to buy or sell a security at a certain price in the future. If you guess right on an option, you can make money, provided you buy or sell at the right time at the right price. But in a volatile market, which has pretty much been standard fare the past two years, the chances of guessing right are slim.

Investors lost an estimated $1 billion trading options during the pandemic, according to fa-mag.com. Many traded off broker advice or random tips on “meme stocks” from online platforms such as Reddit. These “mom-and-pop day traders” may have lost up to $5 billion when the costs of middlemen such as market makers is tallied. Worse yet, the day traders may have lost even more on “leveraged” trades involving borrowed money.

“Turns out, taking leveraged flyers on meme stocks mentioned on Reddit’s WallStreetBets trading forum is harder than it looks,” fa-mag reported, citing a new study from the London Business School. “Spurred by Reddit posts and urged on by Twitter and TikTok influencers, daily volume in bullish contracts set record after record as stuck-at-home tinkerers flocked to the contracts in an effort to juice up returns.”

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing clients who’ve suffered losses in money-losing complex options trading strategies pitched to them by their financial or investment advisors. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has charged Allianz Global Investors U.S. LLC (AGI US) and three former senior portfolio managers with a massive fraudulent scheme that concealed the immense downside risks of a complex options trading strategy they called “Structured Alpha.”

After the COVID-19 market crash of March 2020 exposed the fraudulent scheme, the SEC stated, “the strategy lost billions of dollars as a result of AGI US and the portfolio managers’ misconduct.  AGI US has agreed to pay billions of dollars as part of an integrated, global resolution, including more than $1 billion to settle SEC charges and together with its parent, Allianz SE, over $5 billion in restitution to victims.”

The SEC stated AGI US marketed and sold the strategy to approximately 114 institutional investors, including pension funds for teachers, clergy, bus drivers, engineers, and other individuals. “Allianz Global Investors admitted to defrauding investors over multiple years, concealing losses and downside risks of a complex strategy, and failing to implement key risk controls,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler. “The victims of this misconduct include teachers, clergy, bus drivers, and engineers, whose pensions are invested in institutional funds to support their retirement. This case once again demonstrates that even the most sophisticated institutional investors, like pension funds, can become victims of wrongdoing. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a recent string of cases in which derivatives and complex products have harmed investors across market sectors.”

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices represents investors who’ve suffered losses from alternative investments. Some brokers like to pitch investors on the idea of making a lot of money by investing in alternative investments, mostly because brokers get paid handsome commissions for selling them.  GPB Capital and more recently, GWG Holdings are examples of alternative investments that were pushed hard by brokerage firms, with terrible results. There is a sub-category of these investments called “liquid alternative”, which are complex and costly for clients.

FINRA, the U.S. securities industry regulator, recently issued a warning about liquid “alts,” which invest in assets “other than stocks and bonds — such as real estate, commodities and derivatives — to give retail investors exposure to alternative investments in a vehicle that can be traded daily. They are touted as a way to beat market returns but also can be risky and expensive.”

“While these funds may be appropriate for some investors,” the regulator’s warning stated, “FINRA has consistently emphasized the importance of member firms’ sales practice obligations for these and other products, especially when such products may carry additional risks for customers.” These products are inappropriate for investors unless their objective is speculation – plain and simple.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing investors who’ve suffered losses because their financial advisor recommended “private securities” without the permission or knowledge of their firms. It’s not unusual for financial advisors to pitch certain stocks that don’t have to follow the strict disclosure rules laid down by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and FINRA, the regulator of the US securities industry. But these “private” securities still need to be fully reviewed by brokerage firms to protect investors from excessive risk that they don’t want to take. There are multiple industry rules that dictate that brokers know their clients’ risk profiles.

FINRA suspended and fined former Ameriprise broker Jonathan M. Turner for allegedly selling securities in an un-named private company that involved two customers and transactions totaling $200,000. “Turner allegedly directed the customers to Company X and recommend that they invest in its securities, for which he provided certain forms,” FINRA says. Turner allegedly didn’t earn any commissions from the transactions, according to financialadvisoriq.com, “but participated in them without notifying Ameriprise in writing, against FINRA rules.”  Whether the advisor was paid a commission on the transaction is totally irrelevant.

In January 2020, the FINRA complaint adds, “Turner allegedly incorrectly certified to Ameriprise that he had not engaged in any private securities transactions not authorized previously by the firm.” This is extremely common and does not take Ameriprise off the hook.  For a generation, the SEC has warned brokerage firms like Ameriprise that they cannot simply take the broker’s they supervise word for it, to satisfy the firm’s supervisory obligations.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing investors who’ve suffered losses from firms that have not protected crypto assets. In this cyber age, some of the biggest thefts don’t involve masked robbers and guns. They happen online as thieves are increasingly stealing digital currencies and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), which are valuable digital images. In the first quarter of this year alone, cyberthieves have robbed some $1.3 billion in hacking events, according to Atlas VPN.

How do thieves pull off these heists? They break into so-called online “digital wallets,” or online exchanges where investors store cyber currencies like Bitcoin. Unlike bank vaults with thick steel doors, these virtual storerooms can be accessed any number of ways through the internet. Third parties act as repositories for the currencies and include:

  • The Ethereum ecosystem was hacked 18 times, resulting in a loss of almost $636 million.

The securities attorneys at Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices are representing investors in FINRA arbitration actions against multiple brokerage firms that recommended GWG-L-bonds to their clients. Our investigation into GWG, which includes monitoring and being involved in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy, is focused on two issues: First, GWG L-Bonds were speculative, high risk, unrated debt instruments. One of the biggest issues with this bond program is, the bondholders were subordinate to hundreds of millions of dollars other debt.  The debt owed by GWG in these bonds are not the first priority to be paid back by the company on the “capital stack”.  These were very high risk investments, so unless that was made clear to you by your financial advisor, you may have a claim to pursue for misrepresentations and commissions and for recommending an unsuitable investment.  Either of these are actionable.

The other main issue here from the brokerage firm perspective is the failure to perform reasonable due diligence. Although 160 brokerage firms sold GWG Financial, this is actually a super-minority, roughly 5%, of all brokerage firms nationwide. In reality, very few firms approved GWG for sale to their customers.  GWG was allowed to borrow up to 90% of its listed assets. Its assets are almost all illiquid and subject to “fair valuation” which is an extremely dangerous financial situation for investors.  Big firms like Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley don’t go anywhere near unrated speculative bonds like this. But a lot of firms do because GWG paid brokers massive 8% commissions to sell these bonds which were the financial life-blood of GWG.  Even through the US government began investigating GWG in October 2020, and brokerage firms still continued to sell them.  As early as march 2020, GWG was reporting publicly about “several material weaknesses” with respect to the company’s accounting processes.  By 2020, there were more Red Flags about GWG than a Soviet May-Day parade and yet brokerage firms continues to sell it, and one reportedly BOOSTED sales.

It was reported this week that Centaurus Financial, with 640 brokers nationwide, actually increased the amount individual investors could invest in GWG from $100,000, to $150,000. Brokers went on the sales push to recommend their clients increase their investment in the GWG L-Bonds in April 2020, after GWG reported material issues with accounting and after it entered into a highly questionable transaction with the Beneficient Company, alleged now to have been securities fraud.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with broker-advisors who have run Ponzi schemes right under their big-bank firm’s nose. Unscrupulous financial advisors have been known to steal clients’ money to pay for their lifestyle. As they are pocketing investors’ funds, they are often pitching  investments like Ponzi schemes, which are fake and fraudulent investment schemes fueled by money flowing in from new investors.

Shawn E. Good, 55, from Wilmington, North Carolina, a former Morgan Stanley advisor, had “clients send funds to his personal bank account to supposedly make low-risk investments in real-estate development projects,” according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) complaint filed in federal court. “Good defrauded investors — including retirees — out of at least $4.8 million, resulting in more than $2 million of losses,”  the SEC said.

A spokesperson for Morgan Stanley told Advisorhub.com the bank “is reviewing the matter and that the alleged conduct is plainly unacceptable. Good is no longer employed by the bank.” The Morgan spokesman added “We are currently reviewing the matter, which affects a small number of clients, and are cooperating with the SEC and other government authorities.”

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