Articles Posted in Senior Investors

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred ex-broker Douglas Wayne Studer after it was discovered that he was named to inherit a 91-year-old customer’s Florida waterfront condominium. FINRA’s investigation, which began last year, sought to determine whether he violated his ex-employer’s policy by being named in the estate documents belonging to the elderly investor.

Without denying or admitting to FINRA’s allegations Studer agreed to the sanction. Until July, Studer had worked for Kovack Advisors Inc.  since last October. 

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has filed a securities case against Christopher Ariola, a former broker. According to the regulator, while he was at Bay Mutual Financial, Ariola recommended that three retirees invest a chunk of their retirement funds in energy and gold stocks. He is accused of helping a fourth investor with similar investments using a TD Ameritrade (AMTD) account under his control.

This caused the investors to lose $140K. All of them had previously worked for the same bus company. These were not sophisticated investors who could handle a lot of risk nor did they have unlimited financial resources to withstand huge losses. Ariola came to work with them after the employees decided to roll over their money from their 401(k) into a Bay Mutual Financial IRA.

FINRA alleges that Ariola recommended that these investors “invest heavily” in energy and gold, including high-yield dividend producing stocks that came with a lot of risk. One couple, both retired bus drivers, were about 80% exposed to these risky stocks because of Ariola’s recommendations. Another bus drives was 44% invested in the stocks.

FINRA said that not only did Ariola expose these investors to “significant” risks with his recommendations, but also the recommendations were unsuitable for them.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has filed a securities fraud case against Hank Mark Werner. The self-regulatory organization is accusing the New York broker of churning the account of a 77-year old widow who is blind, and engaging in unsuitable and excessive trading involving her account. FINRA claims that Werner charged the elderly customer over 243K in commissions while he churned her accounts for over three years and caused her to sustain about $184K in losses.

According to FINRA, Werner, who had been the broker of the elderly widow’s husband since 1995, until he passed away four years ago, started aggressively trading her accounts after he died. The SRO claims that Werner did this to earn excessive commissions.

From 10/12 to 10/15, Werner placed more than 700 trades in over 200 securities while charging the elderly customer commission or a markup on every sale and purchase. Because she was seriously debilitated, blind, and needed in-home care, the woman was totally dependent on Werner to let her know how her account was doing.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is fining Prudential Annuities Distributors Inc. $950K for not identifying and stopping a senior fraud scam that allowed a broker to steal $1.3M from an older investor’s variable annuity account. The self-regulatory organization said that the firm failed on numerous occasions to properly investigate “red flags” indicating that Travis Weitzel was moving money from the 89-year-old’s VA account to a bank account listed under the maiden name of Wetzel’s wife.

According to FINRA, from 6/10 until 9/12, Wetzel turned in 114 forged annuity withdrawal requests to Prudential Annuities. He initiated up to five withdrawals a month, totaling close to $50K. He asked for the money to be wired from the elderly customer’s account to the third-party account of his wife.

The SRO said that Prudential Annuities did as Wetzel instructed without properly investigating the warning signs. When the firm looked at certain withdrawals during several quarterly audits, it saw that the money was going to a third party and determined that these were legitimate transactions. Prudential also purportedly failed to discern what the relationship was between the elderly customer and the third-party account holder.

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The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to approve a bill that will hopefully encourage financial advisers to help stop senior financial fraud. The Senior Safe Act protects financial advisers and their firms from liability for violating privacy laws when they report suspicions or evidence of elder financial abuse.

The bi-partisan legislation, unanimously approved by house members, seeks to help financial institutions and their employees identify when a person may be the victim of exploitation. It also gives them the ability to report their suspicions without fear of liability. However, specialized training to help advisors identify and report such incidents would be required in order for immunity from liability to go into effect.

Also this month, laws were put in place in Indiana, Alabama, and Vermont mandating that financial advisers notify state authorities when they suspect that an elderly person or another vulnerable adult may be the victim of financial abuse. The new legislation lets advisers put a freeze on fund disbursements from a client’s accounts. It also gives them immunity from liability for reporting their suspicions.

Meantime, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority remain committed to their battle against elder abuse. FINRA has proposed a rule that, while it doesn’t mandate reporting of senior abuse, allows advisers to name a third party that could be notified if they suspect that a client is the victim of elder financial abuse. Also, in January, the North American Securities Administrators Association unveiled its NASAA Model Act to Protect Vulnerable Adults from Financial Exploitation.

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Former Thrivent Investment Management Inc. broker Miguel Angel Hernandez is now barred from the brokerage industry. According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc., he defrauded an older woman whom he met at church. He allegedly took $25K in ’10 but paid her back in ’15 after the misconduct was exposed.

Hernandez is accused of telling the customer that he needed the money to pay for expenses related to his tax business even though he doesn’t own that type of business. Instead, he allegedly used her funds for his own spending.

Hernandez purportedly promised the woman a 2% stake in this supposed business in five years in addition to quarterly payments of nearly $1100 for 3-to-10 years. Even though he is settling, Hernandez is not denying or admitting to the charges.

In other elder fraud news, U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) is asking state securities regulators to help her move forward a bill that would make it easier for professional industry members to report when they suspect an older person is being financially exploited. Collins chairs the Senate Aging Committee. She made her request at a recent North American Securities Administrators Association conference.

If passed, the legislation would implement protections so that financial abuse could be reported across the states. While the bill already has several bipartisan cosponsors, it needs additional support to make it through the Senate Banking Committee and the Senate.

Older investors suffer $2.9B in losses yearly as victims of financial scams, and state regulators are ramping up their efforts to combat this type of elder abuse. Sometimes the fraudster is a member of the securities industry. There are also family members, caregivers, and friends that have been known to bilk senior investors.

If you or someone you love is a senior investor and you suspect that he/she is the victim of fraud, contact our elder financial fraud law firm today.

Former Thrivent broker barred from securities business for defrauding woman he met at church: Finra, InvestmentNews, May 17, 2016


Senate Aging Committee

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According to research, some financial fraudsters may try to manipulate investors by getting them to feel strong emotions so that they will hand over their money, and older investors are the ones who most vulnerable to this type of manipulation. Research was conducted and funded by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, the AARP Fraud Watch Network, and Stanford University psychologists. They said that inducing certain emotions in older individuals may make them more likely to purchase items that were falsely advertised.

The team studied adults in the 65- 85 age group and adults in the 30-40 age group. They sought to find out whether inciting anger or excitement in either demographic made them more susceptible to fraud.

According to their findings, feeling excitement or anger enhanced an older investor’s desire to buy in investment item as opposed to when there was no emotional arousal. Furthermore, the emotional state felt by an older adult did not have to be positive or negative for him/her to become more vulnerable to fraud. As AARP Fraud Watch Network Dr. Shadel stated, whether a fraudster is trying to get an older investor excited about making a lot of money or angry about past or future financial losses, either approach, when used to get them to make a purchase, proved just as impactful. The elderly investor’s rational thinking becomes suspended in the process.

The research found that in younger adults, experiencing strong feelings of excitement or anger did not appear to be a factor in whether or not they would make a purchase. This suggests that heightened feelings do not increase the younger group’s susceptibility to fraud.

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Cindy L. Lampkins is sentenced to five years behind bars. The Bloomington, Indiana investment adviser stole over $680,000 in retirement money from elderly investors and disabled clients. Lampkins was convicted on count of money laundering and one count of wire fraud.

Lampkins was the VP of Kern Financial Group, which offers financial and insurance services. The investment firm belongs to her and her father.

According to investigators, between 2/10 and 11/13, Lampkins persuaded clients to pay Kern Financial Group for nonexistent products. The Internal Revenue conducted a probe, as did state police, who discovered that Lampkins lied to clients, gave them doctored financial statements, and concealed her actions from them. Investors thought their money was going into annuities with high interest rates or to buy a product that would cover funeral costs in the future.

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Elder Financial Fraud: LA Based-Company Accused of Bilking Retirees and Others
The Securities and Exchange Commission is charging PLCMGMT LLC, also known as Prometheus Law or PLC, and co-founders David Aldrich and James Catipay of bilking retirees and other investors. The two men are accused of raising $11.7M by telling investors that their money would go toward bringing together plaintiffs for class action cases and other lawsuits. Investors were promised substantial returns of 100% to 300% from any settlements. PLC is a litigation marketing company based in Los Angeles.

The SEC contends that only $4.3M of the money was used to find prospective plaintiffs and not much revenue was made from any settlements reached. Instead, Aldrich and Catipay took $5.6M to cover their own expenses. The two men downplayed the risks involved and did not disclose that their business model was “unrealistic.” Instead, PLC and its founders claimed that investments were secure and guaranteed when they were actually very speculative and high risk, especially as not all potential plaintiffs typically qualify to become actual plaintiffs. Compound this factor with the reality that winning any lawsuit is never a guarantee.

Our elder financial fraud lawyers at Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD LLP are here to help older investors recoup their losses.

Officials of Ramapo, NY Accused of Hiding Financial Woes from Muni Bond Investors
The SEC is accusing the New York town of Ramapo, its local development corporation, and four town officials of fraud. The Commission claims that the officials committed fraud to hide the financial stress caused by the $60M spent on constructing a baseball stadium, as well as the decline in sales and property tax revenues. The four individuals allegedly cooked the books of Ramapo’s main operating fund to make it seem as if it held positive balances of up to $4.2 million over a six-year period when actually the balance deficit at one point reached close to $14M.

The regulator said that since the town guaranteed the stadium bonds that Ramapo Local Development Corp. (RLDC) had issued, an operating revenue shortfall at the corporation was concealed and investors were not apprised that the town would likely have to subsidize bond payments, which would cause the general fund to lose even more money.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has announced that PNC Investments will pay nearly $225K in restitution for charging retirement clients too much for mutual fund investments. According to the regulator, the brokerage firm did not apply waivers for investors in certain Class A share mutual funds even though there was a waiver for front-end charges for eligible customers.

Instead, said FINRA, PNC Investments sold Class A shares customers with a front-end load or other shares that had a back-end load and higher fees and expenses, some of which were charged on an ongoing basis. Because of this, certain customers were charged excessive fees and paid them.

FINRA said that PNC Investments charged 121 customer accounts in excess of $191,740 for mutual funds—although the actual amount, with interest, was closer to $224,750. PNC will pay restitution to eligible investors.

The brokerage firm self-reported the overcharges after reviewing its own conduct last year to assess whether it was issuing the sales waiver to those that were eligible. FINRA said that the broker-dealer experienced lapses in supervision, did not keep up written policies and procedures that were adequate, and failed to help advisers assess when to waive the sales charges.

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