Investor Alert: Check the Background of Anyone Selling You an Investment

08/14/2018

The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy (OIEA) urges investors to check the background of anyone selling or offering them an investment.  No matter how good an investment may sound, verify that the person is currently registered or licensed and check his or her background by using the free and simple search tool on Investor.gov.

Using the search tool on Investor.gov to check the background of an investment professional is a great first step toward protecting your money.  The search tool provides information about anyone who is registered and licensed, including certain information about criminal or civil legal proceedings, regulatory actions, customer complaints, employment terminations, and bankruptcy filings. Even if someone is currently registered or licensed, be careful if you spot any of these potential red flags in the person’s background:

  • Disciplinary actions by a government regulator (including the SEC) or a self-regulatory organization (including FINRA);
  • A history of customer complaints;
  • Lawsuits or arbitration claims brought by customers; and
  • Employment with one or more firms that have been expelled from the securities industry.
Be cautious about investing through someone who has been convicted of a crime. For example, in In the Matter of Tomahawk Exploration LLC, the SEC announced fraud charges against an oil and gas company founder who previously served time in jail for mail fraud and providing false information to the SEC in connection with a scheme to defraud investors. The company tried to raise $5 million through an initial coin offering (ICO). The ICO’s website failed to mention the founder’s prison time, instead claiming that the company’s principals were “successful citizens with flawless backgrounds.” The founder removed his middle initial from the ICO’s website to make it more difficult for potential investors to discover his criminal history.

You also can use the SEC Action Lookup - Individuals (SALI) feature on SEC.gov to find information about certain people who have had judgments or orders issued against them in SEC court actions or administrative proceedings.

Additional Resources

Investor Alert: Beware of False or Exaggerated Credentials

Spotlight on ICOs and Digital Assets

Call OIEA at 1-800-732-0330, ask a question using this online form, or email us at Help@SEC.gov.

Visit Investor.gov, the SEC’s website for individual investors.                    

Receive Investor Alerts and Bulletins from OIEA by email or RSS feed. Follow OIEA on Twitter @SEC_Investor_Ed. Like OIEA on Facebook at facebook.com/secinvestoreducation.


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.

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You can check out the background of an investment professional by using Investor.gov.  It’s a great first step toward protecting your money.  Learn about an investment professional’s background, registration status, and more.  

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