The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy and the Retail Strategy Task Force are issuing this alert to help investors protect themselves and their communities from fraud targeting members of a shared faith.
Having something in common is a great way to strike up a conversation and to gain someone’s trust, and the tendency to trust someone may be especially strong when that person appears to share your beliefs and values. But sometimes fraudsters try to take advantage of that trust by targeting people of faith – the fraudster may even be (or pretend to be) part of the very group they are trying to cheat. We urge you to be on the lookout for investment fraud, even in your faith-based community.
Criminals target both broad-based communities (for example, people of a specific religion) as well as smaller groups (for example, people who attend the same mosque, church, or synagogue). Some scams even enlist leaders of a group to spread the word about the scheme. Those leaders may not realize the “investment” is actually a fraud, which means they too may be victims.
While it may be hard to believe someone who shares your beliefs and values would ever try to cheat you, the losses can be devastating if they do. Here are some tips to help you and other members of your faith-based community avoid falling victim to fraud:
- Know who you are dealing with. Even if you know the person making an investment offer, either personally or through their role in your religious organization, be sure the person is a registered investment professional. Always do a background check (using their legal name if possible) on any investment professional you are considering with the free search tool on Investor.gov. If the person is not licensed, we urge you to be very careful – unlicensed individuals commit much of the investment fraud we see. You can also see if the person has been disciplined by the SEC using the SEC Action Lookup – Individuals (SALI) database, or even do a simple internet search for any news about the person.
- Understand what they are selling. If someone recommends an investment, get more information. Don’t trust an investment offer if you can’t get it in writing. Fraudsters often avoid putting things in writing.
- Avoid investments that are “too good to be true.” Don’t fall for investments promising spectacular profits or “guaranteed” returns. More likely than not, they are frauds. Watch out for investments claiming to have no risk. All investments have risks. Promises of quick and high investment returns, without risk, are classic warning signs of fraud.
- Don’t be rushed. Research the “opportunity” before you decide to invest. Be especially skeptical if someone tells you they “don’t have time” to write down the details. Reputable investment professionals won’t pressure you to buy immediately.
It may feel uncomfortable to question someone you know and trust, especially when they are a member of your faith-based community—but remember that it’s your money on the line. And keep in mind that sometimes the person trying to sell you the investment is an unknowing victim too. If you suspect a possible fraud, walk away from the “opportunity” and report it to us:
Securities and Exchange Commission – SEC Complaint Form (www.sec.gov/complaint/select.shtml)
SEC Charges Prominent Pastor, Financial Planner in Scheme to Defraud Elderly Investors
- Federal Trade Commission – FTC Complaint Assistant (https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1)
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – CFPB Complaint Page (https://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/)
This Alert represents the views of the staff of the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy and the Retail Strategy Task Force. It is not a rule, regulation, or statement of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“Commission”). The Commission has neither approved nor disapproved its content. This Alert, like all staff statements, has no legal force or effect: it does not alter or amend applicable law, and it creates no new or additional obligations for any person.