The SEC's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy is issuing this Investor Alert to alert investors, including individuals who may receive lump sum payouts from insurance companies and others as a result of damage from Hurricanes Harvey or Irma, to investment scams that may take advantage of the disaster.
Hurricanes, floods, oil spills, and other disasters often give rise to investment scams. These scams can take many forms, including promoters touting companies purportedly involved in cleanup, repair and recovery efforts, trading programs that falsely guarantee high returns, and classic Ponzi schemes where new investors' money is used to pay money promised to earlier investors.
Some scams are circulated through spam email, promising high returns for small, thinly-traded companies that supposedly will reap huge profits from recovery and cleanup efforts. For example, the SEC brought several enforcement actions against individuals and companies who made false and misleading statements about alleged business opportunities in light of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Some of those cases involved pump-and-dump scams where fraudsters used fake "news" to pump up the stock price of small companies so they can sell shares they own at artificially high prices. We also heard about fraudsters targeting individuals receiving compensation from insurance companies. Individuals, including those receiving lump sum insurance payouts, should be extremely wary of potential investment scams related to Hurricanes Harvey or Irma.
Be Skeptical and Ask Questions
One of the best ways to avoid investment fraud is to ask questions. Be skeptical if you are approached by somebody touting an investment opportunity. Ask that person whether he or she is licensed and whether the investment they are promoting is registered with the SEC or with a state. Check out their answers with an unbiased source, such as the SEC or your state securities regulator.
Know that promises of fast and high profits, with little or no risk, are classic signs of fraud. Our short publication called Ask Questions discusses many of the other questions you should ask of anyone who wants you to make an investment. Please read Ask Questions before making any investment decisions.
Take a close look at your entire financial situation before making any investment decision, especially if you are a recipient of a lump sum payment. Remember, your payment may have to help finance your recovery as well as last you and your family for a long time. Below is a list of some online resources that may help. If you are thinking about investing and have any questions, do not hesitate to call the SEC's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy at 1-800-732-0330, or ask a question using this online form.
- SEC Press Release: For information on how the SEC is monitoring the impact of Hurricane Harvey on investors and markets, see this press release.
- NASAA Alert: See the alert from the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) regarding Hurricane Harvey scams.
- FINRA Alert: See the alert from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) regarding potential scams following Hurricane Harvey.
- Lump Sum Payouts: For information about investing wisely after receiving a lump sum payout, see Lump Sum Payouts: Questions You Should Ask Yourself before You Invest a Dime.
- Affinity Fraud: For information about investment scams targeting particular groups, see our Investor Alert on Affinity Fraud.
- Ponzi Schemes: For information about Ponzi schemes, see Ponzi Schemes: Frequently Asked Questions.
- Saving and Investing Basics: For general information about saving and investing, please see Saving and Investing: a Roadmap to Your Financial Security through Saving and Investing. This publication is also available in Spanish.
- Ask Questions: For a list of questions you should ask when considering an investment, see Ask Questions: Questions You Should Ask about Your Investments. This publication is also available in Spanish.
- Investor.gov: This is the SEC's educational website for retail investors.
- MyMoney.gov: This is the U.S. government's website dedicated to teaching the basics about managing your money.
The Office of Investor Education and Advocacy has provided this information as a service to investors. It is neither a legal interpretation nor a statement of SEC policy. If you have questions concerning the meaning or application of a particular law or rule, please consult with an attorney who specializes in securities law.