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Imposter scams can take many forms, and there are new variants every day. In investment-related impersonation schemes, scammers often misuse the name of real registered investment professionals or firms to create the appearance of legitimacy. Imposter schemes rely on source credibility—building trust by claiming to be properly registered and employed by a well-known firm—and they can be alarmingly convincing.

In some cases, bad actors might take the publicly available details about a legitimate registered investment professional or firm and create a fake website to obtain personal information or login credentials or to steal investor funds by luring investors into making deposits into fake accounts. Bad actors might also misuse the public FINRA BrokerCheck report of a legitimate investment professional to solicit clients by using the name and registration number (known as a CRD number) of the actual registered investment professional but claiming to be associated with a fictitious or unregistered broker-dealer. Imposter schemes also might involve fictitious products designed to closely resemble legitimate or trendy investments to take advantage of investor interest.

Use these tips to spot the fakes:

1. Be alert to red flags. Guarantees, unregistered products, overly consistent or high returns, complex strategies, missing documentation, account discrepancies, secrecy, and pushy salespeople are always cause for concern. Practice spotting persuasion tactics and exercise skepticism. Be particularly wary if you were solicited for an investment when you weren’t even looking for one. 

2. Go to the source. Don’t assume that the information you receive from the seller is legitimate. Compare any documentation you receive with reports you obtain yourself and note inconsistencies, such as a slightly different firm name or location. Verify this information with what you can find in FINRA’s BrokerCheck and the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure database, and contact your state regulator. Also check the firm’s Client Relationship Summary (Form CRS).

3. Verify contact information. Conduct a search online for the names of the individual and firm soliciting your business. Does it match the information provided to you? Do a little more digging, including a map search on the address or a reverse lookup on the phone number. Call the firm using a number from their Form CRS or public website—not the number that’s been provided in the solicitation—to verify the legitimacy of the professional and the investment.

4. Look for things that appear out of place. Keep an eye out for poor grammar, odd or awkward phrasings, or misuse of investor terminology. Scammers might use URLs or email addresses that initially appear correct but on closer inspection reveal substituted characters, such as the numeral 1 in place of the letter l. And the use of different fonts within a document could indicate doctored information.

5. Confirm product legitimacy. Clarify the type of product you’re purchasing and the institution you’re working with, since not all are registered to sell all products. Take a pause if a website is offering only one type of investment, the investment requires a high minimum deposit, or the seller advertises such perks as higher-than-average interest rates, low or no risk, or FDIC insurance coverage. If the investment is represented as a securities product, look up the CUSIP number.

6. Don’t send money, crypto, or personal information. Be extra cautious if you’re asked to send information to a personal (rather than a firm’s) email address, to respond to phone numbers that aren’t listed as official firm contacts, or to send money directly to the individual or a third party. Don’t ever send money, crypto assets, or personal information until you verify who you’re working with.

If you’re suspicious about information you receive from an individual or firm soliciting your business, contact FINRA or another regulator before you send any personal or financial information.

For further information on protecting your money or to file a tip or complaint, visit www.FINRA.org/MoneyShow.