Last week, a securities arbitration panel in Los Angeles, California, found Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (“MSSB”) liable for elder financial abuse by aiding and abetting an unaffiliated individual’s financial exploitation of their customer. The decision, which was arbitrated before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), ordered MSSB to pay compensatory damages, interest and attorney fees totaling $396,623 pursuant to California’s Elder Abuse Statute. Although one of the three arbitrators dissented, the majority found that MSSB failed to protect their elderly customer from being victimized by a third party who exploited the customer’s paranoid delusions and bilked her out of $300,000 for home security equipment. The funds were withdrawn from the customer’s MSSB account over a 4-month period. Prior to the fraud, the customer had only withdrawn $375 per month from the account. The panel majority concluded that MSSB knew or should have known of the fraudulent conduct and failed to take adequate measures to counteract it.

FINRA’s Proposed Rule to Curtail Financial Exploitation of Seniors

In October 2015, FINRA released Regulatory Notice 15-37 adopting Rule 2165 which gives firms the authority to temporarily place a hold on accounts of elderly customers when there is a reasonable belief that financial exploitation has occurred. The rule takes effect February 5, 2018.

Whistleblower Tips are on the Rise

Increased public awareness of the SEC’s Whistleblower Program has lead to a tremendous growth in whistleblower tips and complaints.  In Fiscal Year 2016, the SEC received a record number of tips totaling more than 4,200.  That same year, the SEC paid over $57 million in awards to whistleblowers.  Eligible whistleblowers are entitled to an award equal to 10% to 30% of the monetary sanctions collected by the SEC.  The largest amount paid to a whistleblower in 2016 was $22 million.  The payment of significant awards to whistleblowers has undoubtedly led to a flood of tips and complaints.

Only “High-Quality” Information Will be Rewarded

  1. Reject aggressive salespeople. Don’t feel pressured to act quickly. Give yourself time to do your homework. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” Request to be put on the “do not call” list.
  2. Ask questions. Ask what licenses the salesperson has. Get copies of all documents you signed and all information shown to you. Never sign blank or incomplete documents.
  3. Get help. Ask for help from a trusted family member, friend, attorney or CPA. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t understand the investment. Don’t invest in something that you don’t understand.

rusty barrel.jpgToday, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) announced their decision to proceed with delisting Magnum Hunter Resources Corporation (NYSE: MHR). Trading in MHR’s common stock will be suspended immediately causing irreparable harm to many main street investors who had invested heavily in MHR.

Related Story: ALF is investigating complaints by investors that suffered significant losses when two Wells Fargo brokers bet heavily on the small cap energy sector, including Magnum Hunter Resources.

symbol_hazard.pngBy now, readers of this blog are hopefully aware that we are very negative on the marketing and sale of leveraged and inverse exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”) to average investors. The New York Times recently published a news piece declaring that ETFs, like those offered by Direxion, were “Public Enemy No. 1.”

Still not convinced? Take a look at the year-to-date results for the worst performing Direxion ETFs through 10/7/2015 according to Morningstar–all of them triple-leveraged funds:

Direxion Daily Nat Gas Rltd Bull 3X ETF (GASL) -84.36%

Thumbnail image for lpl.jpgAs previously reported in this blog, LPL Financial has recently been faced with numerous fines from various regulators and also securities lawsuits from unhappy investors over the firm’s uncontrolled sale of non-traded REITs and leveraged ETFs.

Multi-State Task Force Concludes LPL Overly Sold REITs to Individual Investors

Today, LPL reached yet another million dollar settlement–this time with a Task Force of state regulators. The Task Force investigation determined that LPL sold non-traded REITS in excess of the requirements set forth in the REIT prospectuses, various state concentration limits and LPL’s own guidelines. The investigation also concluded that LPL’s supervisory system was inadequate. Under the settlement, LPL will remediate investor losses for all sales of non-traded REITs from January 2008 through December 2013 that exceeded the requirements of the REIT prospectuses, applicable state concentration limits or LPL’s own guidelines. The Task Formed by the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) included securities regulators from California, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Maine, Ohio and Virginia.

The Alcala Law Firm has filed a FINRA arbitration claim against LPL Financial LLC arising out of the actions of their registered representative/investment advisor Jane Everingham doing business as Everignham O’Malley in Larkspur, California. The claim, filed on behalf of a customer of Ms. Everingham, involves the following highly risky and speculative investments:

  • Proshares Trust Short 20+ Year Treasury [Symbol: TBF]. An Exchange Traded Fund (“ETF”) that seeks to achieve the inverse of the daily performance of the Barclays U.S. 20+ Year Treasury Bond Index. Because these ETFs are reset daily, this type of ETF is unsuitable for investors who plan to hold the fund for longer than one trading session due to the effects of compounding.
  • Federated Equity Funds Prudent Bear Fund [Symbol: BEARX]. A mutual fund that seeks capital appreciation primarily through short positions on domestic stocks. “Selling short” generally refers to the act of selling borrowed shares with the hope that the shares can be bought back at a lower price.

Charles Lynch, a financial advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors in Irvine, California, has one or more pending customer complaints alleging “unsuitable concentration in energy sector.”[1] ALF is currently conducting an investigation into related conduct by Mr. Lynch.[2] If you have any questions or information regarding these events, please use the “Contact Us” link above.

Disclosures:

[1] Customer complaint information was verified through FINRA’s BrokerCheck system.

Charles Frieda, a dully registered broker and investment advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors in Irvine, California, has one or more customer complaints alleging “unsuitable concentration in small cap energy sector securities.”[1] ALF is currently conducting an investigation into related conduct by Mr. Frieda.[2] If you have any information regarding this matter, please use the “Contact Us” link above.

Disclosures:

[1] Customer complaint information has been verified through FINRA’s BrokerCheck system.

On May 6, 2015, LPL Financial reached a settlement with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) agreeing to pay FINRA a $10 million fine and make restitution payments totaling $1.7 million to a select group of customers who were sold leveraged and inverse exchange traded funds (“ETFs”).

Restitution Will be Limited to 327 Customer Accounts

Only customers who purchased certain ETFs are entitled to receive any restitution under the terms of the settlement with FINRA. A total of 327 customer accounts are covered under the restitution program. Payments will range from a high of $83,034.97 to a low of $1.02 per account. LPL has 120 days to provide regulators with proof that payment has been made.