As repeatedly reported here in the California Securities Fraud Lawyer Blog, we have seen an exponential growth in investor complaints involving the sale of private placements. For those of you unacquainted with the term "private placement," click here.
In a nutshell, private placements are illiquid non-publicly traded investments that are exempt from registration requirements under the Securities Exchange Act. For this reason, only wealthy and sophisticated investors, referred to as "accredited investors," are allowed to invest in them. In order to qualify as an accredited investor, an individual must have a net worth of $1 million or more. However, this does not mean that it is fair game for stockbrokers and investment advisors to sell private placements to anyone with a paper net worth of $1 million. See related blog posting: Even for Accredited Investors, Stockbroker Recommendations to Buy Private Placements Are Subject to the Suitability Rule.
In an effort to protect smaller investors whose only significant asset is their home, the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") recently took steps to limit Regulation D of the Securities Exchange Act of 1933 to exclude an investor's primary residence from the $1 million net worth calculation. Although the rule became effective February 27, 2012, the net worth prohibition actually took effect back in July 2010 when President Obama signed off on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009. See blog post: Investor Home Equity to be Excluded from $1 Million Minimum Net-Worth Requirement for Accredited Investors
The Bottom Line
We recommend extreme caution to anyone contemplating an investment in a private placement that is limited to accredited investors. Don't be fooled by your financial professional's sales pitch. No matter how you slice it, private placements are illiquid and risky investments. As stated in the fine print: These investments are only appropriate if you are willing to lose your entire investment. Still not convinced? I've got a backlog of cases where clients wrongfully assumed that they could get out of their investment anytime they wanted. They are still waiting.
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