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Kemp warns Georgians of investment schemes

POSTED: August 29, 2011 7:11 p.m.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced that the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) has released its annual list of financial products and practices that threaten to trap investors, many by taking advantage of investors troubled by lingering economic uncertainty and volatile stock markets.

Secretary Kemp said, “Georgians and their families should carefully research all offers and those who make the offer before investing their money and resources. Georgia consumers should do business only with licensed brokers and investment advisers and should report any suspicion of investment fraud to us.”

The following alphabetical listing of the Top 10 financial products and practices that threaten to trap investors was compiled by NASAA, of which the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office is a member.

2011 Top Investor Traps and Threats

Distressed Real Estate Schemes. Investment offerings involving distressed real estate have been on the rise following the collapse of the real estate bubble. While many legitimate investment offerings are tied to real estate, investment pools targeting distressed real estate have become increasingly popular with con artists as well as investors. Investments in properties that are bank-owned, in foreclosure, pending short sales or otherwise in distress inevitably carry substantial risks and should be evaluated carefully. Just like other securities, interests in real estate ventures also must be registered with state securities regulators.

Energy Investments. Swindlers continue to attempt to trick investors by using high-pressure marketing tactics touting the mystique associated with untapped oil and gas reserves and bountiful production runs. Even genuine oil and gas investments almost always bear a high degree of risk. Investors must realize the distinct possibility that they could lose their total investment in legitimate ventures. Energy investments tend to be poor alternatives for those planning for retirement and should be avoided by anyone who cannot afford to strike out when trying to strike it rich.

Gold and Precious Metals. Higher precious metal prices and the promise of an ever-appreciating, “tangible” asset have lured unsuspecting investors into a variety of scams. Many recent schemes are variations on old themes: a promoter seeking capital for extraction equipment to reopen a long dormant mine in exchange for a full refund plus interest and a stake in the mine. In another case, operators claimed to have special coins or nuggets that they can store or trade for investors in special markets for high profits and returns. Investors suffered heavy losses in each of these cases. And despite ubiquitous promises to the contrary, there are no guarantees with gold or precious metals, even in legitimate markets. In the spring of 2011, silver’s value declined by 30 percent in a single three-week period.

Promissory Notes. Investors seeking safety in uncertain economic conditions or those enticed by the promise of big returns through a private, informal loan arrangement may suffer deep losses investing in unregistered or fraudulent promissory notes. These notes give investors a false sense of security with promises or guarantees of fixed interest rates and safety of principal.

However, even legitimate notes carry some risk that the issuers may not be able to meet their obligations. Often initially pitched as personal loans or short-term business arrangements, most promissory notes and the persons who sell them must be registered with state securities regulators.

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