You ASC'd Blog
We’ve created this blog to present you with answers to some of the more common questions we receive from investors. We'll have different subject matter experts blogging about what they know best and we'll update it as new blog topics arise. We hope you'll find it interesting and helpful.
1. Set a budget and stick to it. December can be a more expensive month than others, due to the holidays and the festivities that come with them. Before you start your holiday spending, create a budget so you know how much you have to spend. And remember, gifts aren’t the only additional item on your budget in December. In addition to gift buying, make sure to budget for other holiday expenditures, such as taxi fares, any travel expenses and that new outfit for the holiday party.
2. Before buying, do your research. As with investments, do your research before buying gifts. Make sure to compare prices between retailers and look for coupons so you don’t overpay. Stay in-the-know about retailer’s sales by subscribing to their email lists or following them on social media.
3. Don’t let feelings of goodwill get the best of you. Scam artists will prey on feelings of goodwill and generosity during the holiday season by encouraging potential victims to donate money to a phony charity or cause. On the flip side, many legitimate charities do require increased generosity from donors during December, so how do you tell which is which? If you’re inclined to donate, be cautious and check out the organization you’re considering before you do. Find out here if a charity is registered in Canada to help you with your donation decisions.
4. Be wary of online shopping. As soon as Cyber Monday hits, the internet is full of holiday sales, enticing consumers with unbelievable deals. While many of these online deals are from legitimate retailers, scam artists may also be luring you onto a spoofed website that is fake. Be sure to check the authenticity of a website before putting your personal information at risk. Learn more about shopping safely online here.
5. If you overspend, tweak your budget to keep it balanced. If you find yourself overspending on the holidays in December, consider cutting back on discretionary items such as lunch at the sandwich shop or paying for parking – make your meals at home and take transit instead. The holidays are also a great time to pick up part-time seasonal employment if you are in need of extra cash.
RCMP Scams and Fraud
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Our team of gurus has been busy over the last month answering the great investing questions Albertans had during our #ASKASC contest. We received over 150 questions on Twitter and Facebook!
Many participants had questions about how to start investing, spotting investment scams, new and developing securities regulations in Alberta and RESPs, TSFAs and RRSP’s. Increasing your financial literacy and educating yourself about investing concepts, whether basic or advanced, is an important step to take towards becoming a more informed, mindful investor.
Congratulations to Tristan Davies, our #ASKASC contest winner who walked away with a brand new smartwatch ! Tristan’s winning question, “What's a good way to teach children about money and investing for their future, including post-secondary?” exemplified the spirit of this contest and our desire to continuously enhance investor knowledge in current and future generations. Check out the answer here.
Thank you to all of the Albertans who participated! Your input helped us develop a robust Q&A page that will help many Albertans educate themselves about investing. Check out the CheckFirst Q&A page, jointly curated by all of our participants of the #ASKASC contest.
Remember, even though the contest is over, our team of experts at the ASC is always available to answer your investing related questions.
Emerging markets like the commercial marijuana industry often attract investors looking to capitalize on a new sector; however, investing in U.S. marijuana companies may expose investors to risk. As business models and laws continue to evolve there is a large amount of uncertainty in this emerging sector, leading to a number of risks that could negatively impact investors.
While all investments come with a certain amount of risk, investment in the marijuana industry exposes investors to different types of risk that can impact their potential return. Some common risks include:
No guarantee of success
Despite the rapidly growing number of companies in the marijuana sector, there remains no guarantee that their businesses are profitable or will be in the future. Many marijuana companies are speculating about their success on future distribution; however, many rules and regulations about distribution and sales are still being established.
Government and legal considerations
Many jurisdictions in which marijuana laws are being considered have yet to establish a framework for how and where products can be sold. There may be restrictions on stores that are permitted to sell marijuana, as well as rules about advertising which could impact a company’s ability to make a profit, thereby reducing the value of the investment.
While the sale and distribution of marijuana is authorized in certain states, it is currently illegal under U.S. federal law. Although this federal law it is not strictly enforced currently, authorities in the U.S. could choose to enforce it at any time, putting the company at risk of prosecution and seizure of assets. Investing in a company that does business in a place where the regulatory and legal frameworks are unclear, or inconsistent, puts investors’ money at risk.
Pricing and taxation
Government-mandated pricing and taxation on marijuana products may also pose a risk to the success of a marijuana company. Marijuana products, especially those intended for recreational use, should be priced below their black market value in order to attract consumers. If the government prices marijuana products too high, or if black market dealers undercut prices of products available in stores, the companies growing and selling the products may not be able to sell enough product to make a profit.
Inflated share prices
The marijuana industry has generated a great deal of interest among investors with the expectation of quick growth. However, these investments can be highly speculative and based upon expectations of future success, rather than current performance. Investors risk paying an inflated price for an investment that may not increase in value.
High operating costs and share dilution
The costs of developing and operating a commercial marijuana company can be considerable as it requires specialized, large-scale facilities and enormous amounts of power and capital to operate. As these high operating costs begin to accumulate, companies may choose to raise capital by issuing additional shares. This issuance comes at the expense of current investors whose percentage ownership decreases proportionally to the number of shares issued, leading to a decrease in investment value.
Before investing in a marijuana company, investors should research the investment opportunity, evaluate the risks, and consider how the investment will meet their financial goals. For more information on investing in U.S. marijuana companies, please visit a recent article published by the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC).
Wondering how to properly research an investment opportunity? Or what the difference is between a TFSA and an RRSP? Chances are, if you have these questions about investing, someone else does too. Here’s another question, have you ever searched a Q&A page on a website and couldn’t find what you were looking for? On CheckFirst.ca, we’re building our Q&A page using real questions from real Albertans with responses from our team of subject matter experts at the ASC.
To encourage all of your questions and help get us started, we’ve developed our #ASKASC campaign and contest, here’s how it works:
From October 3 to 31, post your investing questions to our wall on Facebook or Twitter tag us @ASCUpdates and include the hashtag #ASKASC.
Once your question has been submitted, our team of gurus will start working on the response and you will be automatically entered into a draw to win a smartwatch! We’ll also be sure to notify you once your question has been answered and where you can find it on Checkfirst.ca. It’s simple – just #ASKASC all of your investing questions and take this opportunity to increase your investor knowledge and help other Albertans do the same.
Before you post, make sure your question is eligible. We can only help with general questions about investing and we can’t provide investment advice. Below are some examples of eligible questions:
1. If I invest in a fraudulent company, can I get my money back?
2. What rights do I have as a shareholder?
3. What is insider trading?
4. Where can I find information about a company I want to invest in?
And here are a few examples of questions we can’t answer:
1. Should I invest in XYZ Company?
2. Can you tell me if and when XYZ Company is going to launch an IPO?
3. Can you recommend any good financial advisers in my area?
Thank you for helping us help Albertans increase their investor education. We’re looking forward to answering your questions!
For full contest rules and regulations, click here.
#ASCASC Landing Page
The 18th annual Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) opens next week, and is the largest film festival in Alberta. CIFF showcases approximately 200 short films over 12 days hosted at locations throughout the city. In the spirit of CIFF, we’re shining the spotlight on some of the most famous investment frauds in history.
You may recognize the names – Ponzi and Bre-X - but are you familiar with the frauds that led to their fame?
Charles Ponzi, The Securities Exchange Company
If this character’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he operated one of the most notorious Ponzi schemes ever - in 1919. While he did not actually invent the concept of the Ponzi scheme, his scam was so large and successful that it drew national attention to that type of fraud, for the very first time.
Ponzis’ scheme, which was initially legitimate, involved international reply coupons. These were vouchers individuals could purchase to include with their overseas mail to cover the cost of the return postage required by the recipient to reply back. Ponzi would purchase these coupons in other countries where postage was cheaper and then sell them in the United States at a profit.
His “business” turned into an investment fraud when he expanded the scheme and began to recruit people to invest, claiming their investments would fund the purchase of more international reply coupons. Now operating under the name Securities Exchange Company, he would lure investors in with promised returns of 50 to 90 per cent in only 90 days. Inevitably attracted to such a lucrative offer, investors flocked, providing Ponzi with enough new business that he could pay existing investors with the new funds, while also pocketing millions of dollars for himself.
Ponzi’s scheme was discovered and exposed in 1920 when speculations about him and his business made front-page news in the Boston Post and he was subsequently investigated. Ponzi was charged with 86 counts of mail fraud; he pled guilty and spent 14 years in prison. In total, he defrauded investors of roughly $20 million.
John Felderhof, Bre-X Minerals Ltd.
The recent film Gold (2017) starring Matthew McConaughey dramatized true events from the Bre-X Minerals Ltd. scam that took place in 1997.
Bre-X was a junior exploration company based in Calgary, Alberta. Originally a penny stock when it was first listed on the Alberta Stock Exchange in 1989, the company was eventually valued at $6 billion at its peak in 1996. Unfortunately, this valuation was based on a series of falsified samples that made it appear as if the Bre-X site in Busang, Indonesia held one of the biggest deposits of gold ever reported.
When David Walsh, the founder of Bre-X, wanted to revive the company in 1993 he contacted his colleague and well-known geologist John Felderhof. Felderhof recommended mining in Busang, an isolated piece of rainforest on the Island of Borneo, Indonesia. Convinced the site was a rich, untapped gold mine, he assembled a team of geologists to explore the property. One of them, Michael de Guzman, engaged in salting the initial core samples using gold from his wedding band. He continued to shave gold from different sources into the samples for over two years, while Walsh wildly promoted the Bre-X stock.
The fraud unravelled quickly when an independent consultant tested the samples and found the gold estimates were exaggerated. Around the same time in 1997, de Guzman fell to his death from a helicopter flying over the Indonesian jungle. The stock plunged, investors lost hundreds of millions of dollars and Felderhof (the only perpetrator still alive) was charged with eight counts of violating the Ontario Securities Act, including allegations of insider trading and misleading investors. After a lengthy trial, he was acquitted of all charges. Even after his death in 1998, there continues to be great uncertainty surrounding Walsh’s involvement and potential knowledge of the scam. To this day, no one has been convicted, fined or claimed responsibility for the fraud.
Bre-X: The real story and scandal that inspired the movie Gold
How Stuff Works – Charles Ponzi
You ASC’d – Ponzi Schemes
There are many events to attend in Alberta this season, ranging from football games to music festivals and horse-jumping and more. One thing they all have in common (aside from being fun to attend) is that they accept advertising and/or sponsorships from companies in order to finance their events.
Companies purchase advertising for many reasons, including attracting new customers and even new investors. We often talk about victims of investment fraud being approached by phone or online, but victims have been introduced to fraudulent investment opportunities at Alberta events in the past, through solicitation and advertising/sponsorship. It’s important not to give a potential investment more legitimacy than it deserves just because it is associated with an event you enjoy.
Things to remember to avoid getting scammed:
Don’t assume anything – The organizers of a music festival are focused on stage setup - they aren’t required to know securities laws. In an ideal world, the group hosting an event would investigate the business practices of companies before accepting sponsorship from them, but in reality, that’s generally not the case. Don’t assume that just because a legitimate event accepts advertising or sponsorship from a company that the company doing the advertising is legitimate. Even if they are, investing with them may or may not be the right choice for you.
A company that supports the same events you do does not necessarily share your values – It’s great to support and invest in businesses that participate in your community, but just because a company supports a sport or event you believe in does not mean that company exhibits good values. Also, don’t buy into the belief that all scams are big, cosmopolitan endeavours. Frauds can be small and local, so be aware that even events and individuals in small communities can pose a risk. In particular, affinity fraud is a type of scam that deliberately looks to infiltrate tight-knit communities or groups.
Meeting someone in person doesn’t ensure they’re trustworthy – Often, sponsors and advertisers will be in attendance at events. For instance, a company that sponsors a beer garden at an event may have representatives in the tent to talk to those in attendance. If you attend such an event and meet someone offering an investment, that’s not sufficient knowledge to decide to hand over your money. Be sure to do your own research on the person or company, starting with checking to see if they are actually registered to sell investments, and if they’ve had disciplinary action taken against them in the past.
Remember, it’s our job at the Alberta Securities Commission to regulate people and companies offering investments – so contact our Public Inquiries Office toll-free at 1-877-355-0585 or via email at email@example.com with questions you may have about an investment you’re considering. In an interesting coincidence, we share our ‘ASC’ moniker with the Advertising Standards Council – you can direct advertising questions that are not investment-related there.
Check out a Potential Investment
This year, as Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, we are reminded of all that we have to be proud of and thankful for. Canada has long been a destination for people from many different countries and backgrounds to settle and establish new roots, while still maintaining a strong sense of self and cultural identity. Coast to coast, our diversity is a part of our Canadian values, and it is something we celebrate and are proud of.
Many new Canadians join organizations and groups to integrate themselves into the community and meet others who share their culture. Unfortunately, dishonest people exist worldwide (Canada is no exception), and fraudsters target people based on perceived vulnerabilities. New citizens may experience a language barrier, or be less informed about regulations and how investments work in Canada. Sadly, scam artists are adept at lying and swindling people out of their hard-earned money and use all of these opportunities to exploit people. Specifically, affinity fraud is a common type of scam in groups like these.
Affinity fraud is when a scam artist infiltrates an organization or group and pitches a fake investment opportunity to its members. Those first members who believe the opportunity to be legitimate become unwitting participants, because they spread the word to other members of the group. This second wave of people then buy in to the opportunity, believing it to be trustworthy because the information is coming from their friend, neighbour or someone in their congregation. This can create a snowball effect, allowing the scam to spread throughout a large group very quickly.
Although these risks exist, they can be mitigated when people are aware of them, watch for red flags, and ask the right questions. Even if an investment opportunity arises through a friend or someone you trust, it’s imperative that you ask questions, do your homework and verify the information you are being given. The first step is to check and see if the advisor or company is registered, which anyone who sells an investment that is a security must be, according to Alberta laws (with few exceptions). You can do this via www.checkfirst.ca. After that, continue your research – request and review all documentation related to the investment, and consult with an objective, unrelated third party with business knowledge, such as a lawyer or accountant.
Canadian Securities Administrators
Affinity Fraud Checklist
When it comes to protecting seniors, collaboration is key. In June, ASC employees presented to legal and law enforcement groups who work with seniors to make them aware of what we do, the resources we offer and the ways we can work with them to combat elder financial abuse.
Our CheckFirst booth popped up at Calaway Park’s Grandparents Weekend, where we talked investor education with 800 grandparents, and treated the kids to games and cotton candy.
We also updated our consumer website with a new section dedicated to seniors, www.checkfirst.ca/senior. This page contains educational tools and resources for seniors and Albertans with seniors in their lives. After you read our educational materials, be sure to take our How safe is your nest egg? quiz before Friday, June 30 to find out if you are on the right track to protecting your financial future. Once you complete the quiz, be sure to enter our contest to win one of five great prizes!
Seniors are living longer, healthier lives (“70 is the new 60!”) and they have spent a lifetime accumulating investments and assets. Despite this, the natural aging process has the potential to affect a person’s ability to remember and make important decisions, including those related to their finances. Scam artists see this as a great opportunity, to prey on the perceived vulnerability of seniors.
The ASC wants to prevent that from happening, by helping seniors learn ways to avoid becoming a victim of fraud and financial abuse. Below are some tips on how to protect those you care about, or your own retirement savings.
Don’t judge a book by its cover – Successful scam artists look and sound professional, including their professional wardrobe, offices, and websites. They are experts at making the flimsiest deal sound safe. Remember that appearances can be deceiving and have no bearing on the soundness of an investment opportunity.
Don’t be a victim of your manners – Many people born in the 1930s, 40s and 50s were raised to be polite and trusting. Scam artists will try to exploit your good manners by pressuring you to invest in a “too good to be true” opportunity. Don’t forget – it’s your money and it’s not impolite to start by saying NO to something you are unsure about.
Check out strangers touting strange deals – Trusting a stranger with your money is a mistake that can be made by anyone at any age. Even if you’re one of those people who remembers a time when a handshake and a good word used to mean something, don’t just rely on a handshake when it comes to your finances. Be sure to do your own research on the person or company offering you the investment. An important free and easy first step is to check registration.
Don’t let embarrassment or fear keep you from speaking up – Scam artists know that seniors may not report an incidence of investment fraud because of embarrassment or fear of losing financial independence. Making a report to your local police or the ASC is the best thing you can do to protect others from becoming victims.
Monitor your investments and ask questions – Be sure to read financial statements when you receive them; don’t let unopened mail or e-mails concerning your account activity pile up. Watch out for signs of unauthorized trading and if you are unsure about any account activity, be sure to ask questions.
Looking for more information? Check out our seniors resources at Checkfirst.ca. And be sure to take our quiz (open until June 30) for a chance to win great prizes.
Alberta Elder Abuse Awareness Network
Even in this age of technology with the invention of robo-advisors and algorithmic trading software, one thing all investors have in common is that we’re human, with human emotions, reactions and instincts. Based on our personalities and perceptions, we all have different levels of risk tolerance and capacities for trust, and we deal with loss and disappointment in various ways. In light of CMHA Mental Health Week, we’re looking at how victims are affected by investment fraud, some common social and psychological implications and sadly, one extreme case.
The sense of loss associated with being a victim of investment fraud lingers far beyond the initial financial devastation. A 2007 study conducted by the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) found that the most impactful loss a victim experiences is their loss of trust. Because investment fraud typically “depends on trust while also destroying trust,” the CSA noted that the victim’s trust in other people, investments and the financial markets becomes significantly diminished.1
The CSA also found that victims of fraud, especially those who have lost $10,000 or more, experience increased levels of stress, anger, depression and feelings of extreme loss and isolation. Also common amongst those who faced major losses from investment fraud were panic or anxiety attacks, increased vulnerability to physical illness and extreme weight fluctuations.
The results of the Investor Fraud Study completed by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) in 2006 reinforced prior research findings that fraudsters customize their pitches and tactics to appeal to their target’s psychological profile and vulnerabilities. For example, a fraudster’s offer to a recently divorced, single mom may draw on her fears of becoming the sole provider and possibly not having enough savings for her children’s education or her own retirement. In contrast, the pitch to a highly successful, male, banking professional who is knowledgeable about investing may appeal to his fixation on wealth and power.2
The key takeaway from this portion of FINRA’s report is the importance of investors taking steps to protect themselves by understanding exactly how their psychological state or life circumstances can be exploited and used against them by fraudsters. It is clear that anyone can become a victim of investment fraud. As schemes and pitches become more innovative and as fraudsters continue to adjust their pitches to prey on investor’s vulnerabilities, we need to be increasingly conscious of our own susceptibilities and of the common red flags of fraud.
Part of being an informed investor is understanding your investing personality profile. Asking yourself questions such as: How much risk can I tolerate? How much do I expect to make on my investments? How long do I plan to invest for? And will I ever need quick access to the funds in my investments? will help paint a picture of what type of investor you are and assist you in strategically planning for your financial goals.
Unfortunately, in some situations, when a fraud does occur, the financial devastation and stress is too much to bear. This is what occurred in the case of Fred Turbide, an Edmonton man who took his own life in December 2016 after learning that the binary options trading company he invested with (23Traders) was a fraud and lost almost $330,000. Before he ended his life, Mr. Turbide begged the broker he was working with to contact him, writing that he had been financially destroyed and fearing that he had lost his house and retirement savings – he did not receive any response. Mr. Turbide’s family contacted the ASC after their tragic loss in an effort to raise awareness about the fraud and prevent it from happening to anyone else. 23Traders has since been shut down, however other binary options scams still exist, learn how to recognize and avoid them here.
As part of a Fraud Prevention Month initiative, the ASC filmed an interview with the Turbide family that captured their experience with investment fraud and its devastating effects. Click here to watch.
While this is an extreme example, investment fraud can significantly impact an individual’s well-being. It’s important to know something can be done to pursue fraudsters. If you suspect that you, or someone you know, has been a victim of investment fraud, please contact the ASC’s Public Inquiries Office toll-free at (877) 355-4488.
CMHA Mental Health Week
1 2007 CSA Investor Study
2 FINRA Investor Fraud Study Final Report