Tag Archives: financial advisor

Fifth Third Annuity Fraud

If you were recommended the purchase or sale of an annuity by Fifth Third you may have been the victim of fraud.  We represent investors nationwide and are available to discuss whether you are a victim and entitled to compensation.  Please call 1-866-817-0201 for a free and confidential consultation.

Invest photo 2The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) in a statement on May 8, 2018 stated that it has fined Fifth Third Securities $4 million and required the firm to pay approximately $2 million in restitution to customers for failure to accurately consider and describe costs and benefits of variable annuity (VA) exchanges, and for recommending exchanges without a reasonable basis to believe they were suitable for customers.  While the FINRA action focused on variable annuities, the exchange or early liquidation of any annuity is possibly a violation.

Variable annuities are complex and expensive investments commonly marketed and sold to retirees or those saving for retirement. Exchanging one annuity with another involves a comparison of the complex features of each security. Accordingly, annuity exchanges are subject to regulatory requirements to ensure that brokers have a reasonable basis to recommend them, and their supervisors have a reasonable basis to approve the sales.  Failure to do so can cost investors hundreds of thousands of dollars and cause the investor savings to become unnecessarily illiquid.

Brokerage firms, like Fifth Third, have been on notice of this problem and other problems with annuities for years.  FINRA has warned of the limited suitability of these investments and that they should only be sold to limited types of investors and has done so more than once..  In fact, variable annuities and variable life insurance is so prone to fraud, FINRA has specific rules concerning these products.

FINRA found that Fifth Third failed to ensure that its registered representatives obtained and assessed accurate information concerning the recommended annuity exchanges. It also found that the firm’s registered representatives and principals were not adequately trained on how to conduct a comparative analysis and truthfully sell the annuities.

As a result, the firm misstated the costs and benefits of exchanges, making the exchange appear more beneficial to the customer. By reviewing a sample of annuity exchanges that the firm approved from 2013 through 2015, FINRA found that Fifth Third misstated or omitted facts relating to the costs or benefits of the annuity recommendation or exchange in approximately 77 percent of the sample.  For example:

  • Fifth Third overstated the total fees of the existing VA or misstated fees associated with various additional optional benefits, known as riders.
  • Fifth Third failed to disclose that the existing VA had an accrued living benefit value, or understated the living benefit value, which the customer would forfeit upon executing the proposed exchange.
  • Fifth Third represented that a proposed VA had a living benefit rider even though the proposed VA did not, in fact, include a living benefit rider.

FINRA found that the firm’s principals ultimately approved approximately 92 percent of VA exchange applications submitted to them for review. However, in light of the firm’s supervisory deficiencies, the firm did not have a reasonable basis to recommend and approve many of these transactions.

In addition, FINRA found that Fifth Third failed to comply with a term of its 2009 settlement with FINRA. In the 2009 action, FINRA found that, from 2004 to 2006, Fifth Third effected 250 unsuitable annuity exchanges and transactions and had inadequate systems and procedures governing its annuity exchange business. For more than four years following the settlement, the firm failed to fully implement an independent consultant’s recommendation that it develop certain surveillance procedures to monitor VA exchanges by individual registered representatives.

As a result, the firm misstated costs and benefits of VA exchanges — and in some cases omitted critical information altogether — making the exchanges appear more beneficial to customers in 77 percent of the exchanges Finra reviewed for the period of 2013 through 2015. For instance, Fifth Third transgressions included telling customers that the new VA contracts being marketed had living rider benefits guaranteeing minimum payments to customers and their beneficiary when none existed, Finra said.

Investors of Mark Kaplan of Vanderbilt

We are currently looking to speak to investors of Mark Kaplan of Vanderbilt Securities.  Please call 1-866-817-0201 is you have suffered investment losses.  We believe there is potential for certain investors to recover these losses.

Between March 2011 and March 2015 , Mark Kaplan of Vanderbilt Securities engaged in investment churning and unsuitable excessive trading in the brokerage accounts of a senior customer. We believe that such actions were likely widespread and impacted many of Kaplan’s investors.  Kaplan willfully violated federal securities laws and FINRA regulations by such actions.

Invest photo 2Kaplan has been known for years by Vanderbilt to have problems in his handling of investor accounts.  Morgan Stanley terminated Kaplan in 2011 for his alleged improper activity in Kaplan’s customer accounts.  Additionally, Kaplan has been the subject of seven separate customer lawsuits concerning improper securities transactions.

A recent regulatory action by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) alleges that Kaplan took advantage a 93-year-old retired clothing salesman who had an account with Kaplan.   This investor not only placed his complete reliance in Kaplan but was also in the beginning phases of dimensia.

The investor opened accounts at Vanderbilt Securities with Kaplan during March 2011.  As of Match 31, 2011, the value of the investor’s accounts was approximately $507,544.64. Social Security was the investor’s only source of income during the Relevant Period. Kaplan exercised control over the accounts.  The investor relied on Kaplan to direct investment decisions in his accounts, contacting Kaplan frequently.

The investor was experiencing a decline in his mental health.  In 2015, a court granted an application by the investor’s nephew to act as his legal guardian and manage his financial affairs.

During the Relevant Period, Kaplan effected more than 3,500 transactions in the investor’s accounts, which resulted in approximately $723,000 in trading losses and generated approximately $735,000 in commissions and markups for Kaplan and Vanderbilt. Kaplan never discussed with the investor the extent of his total losses or the amount he paid in sales charges and commissions.

More can be learned about such excessive trading at the warning page for the SEC.

Please call the number above to determine if you have also been taken advantage of and your rights for recovery.

 

Attention Investors of Western International

If you lost money investing with Western International, please call 1-866-817-0201.  The initial consultation with an attorney is free.  Jeffrey Pederson represents investors nationwide in securities brokerage disputes.

NYSE pic 2Western recently entered into a regulatory settlement where it neither admitted not denied the following facts.  Those facts are that from January 1, 2011 to November 5, 2015 (the “Relevant Period”), Western failed to establish, maintain and enforce a supervisory system to ensure that representatives’ recommendations regarding certain ETFs (exchange traded funds) and also failed to comply with certain securities laws in the sale of these ETFs.

In addition, Western allowed its representatives to (1) recommend Non-Traditional ETFs without performing reasonable diligence, the required level of investigation into the investments, to understand the risks and features associated with the investments, and (2) recommend NonTraditional ETFs that were unsuitable, either due to the known high level of risk in the investments or inherent complexity, for certain customers based on their ages, investment objectives and financial situations.

Non-Traditional ETF’s, such as the ETFs that were sold by Western, are designed to return a multiple of an underlying index or benchmark, such as the VIX or S&P, the inverse of that index or benchmark, or both, over the course of a day. As a result, the performance of Non-Traditional ETFs over periods of time longer than u single trading session “can differ significantly from the performance of their underlying index or benchmark during the same period or time.” Because of these risks and the inherent complexity of these products, FINRA has advised broker-dealers and their representatives that Non-Traditional ETIls “are typically not suitable for retail investors who plan to hold them for more than one trading session, particularly in volatile markets.”

We have spoken to a number of investors who have suffered similar losses and believe that such investments were intended for highly sophisticated investors only, such as hedge fund managers, and could not be legitimately sold to retail investors.  So if your were investing for retirement and were sold such investments, you likely have grounds for recovery.

Losses in Inverse VIX ETNs and ETFs

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Investments connected to the VIX index were known to be highly speculative.

We are a firm that specializes in investor loss recovery.  Investors of Inverse VIX Exchange Traded Notes (ETNs) and Inverse VIX Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), including VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-Terms ETN (XIV), the ProShares Short VIX Short-Term Futures ETF (SVXY), and the LJM Partners’ Preservation and Growth fund (LJMIX and LJMAX) may have grounds for the recovery of their losses.

If you were sold an Inverse VIX ETN please call 1-866-817-0201 for a free and confidential consultation with an attorney.

These investments were suitable for very few investors.   The sale of unsuitable investments is a form of negligence and possibly fraud.   These investments carry such a high level of risk and are so complicated that they were likely not suitable for any retail (non-institutional) investor.   “Unless you were a hedge fund manager you should not have been sold these funds.” If you were recommended such investments as part of a retirement savings portfolio you have grounds to recover your losses.  The makers of these funds have acknowledged that the fund was for hedge fund managers only, and not individual investors.

Starting on February 2 and continuing through February 6, investors saw portfolios implode due to investments in obscure products that tracked market volatility.  Such investments tracked the VIX index.  The VIX index is a complicated monitor of investment market volatility or “investor fear.”  An “inverse VIX” investment is an investment that benefits from stable markets but loses value quickly in times of volatility.  The losses in the inverse VIX investments mounted quickly until NASDAQ halted the trading of these investments on February 6, with some suffering losses of almost all value in just a few days.

For example, VelocityShares XIV plummeted 80 percent in extended trading on February 5, 2018.  This is a security issued by Credit Suisse this tracks the inverse of the VIX index tracking market volatility.  As the market rose and sank the value of XIV dropped sharply.  Such sudden drops have a cascading impact that can lead to margin calls and other losses.

Of particular concern, though any sale of such an investment to a retail investor is concerning, are investors who purchased such shares through the following brokerage firms:  Credit Suisse, Fidelity, Merrill Lynch, and Wells Fargo.

The dramatic losses was foreseeable to securities brokerages, often referred to as securities “broker-dealers.”  The regulator that oversees broker-dealers, FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, issued its latest warning in a string of warnings on October 2017 to broker-dealers about VIX and inverse VIX investments.  FINRA identified such investments speculative and warned the “major losses” could result from such investments from a failure to understand how such investments work.  For example, many are short-term trading vehicles that can degrade over time.

FINRA also warned all financial advisers that VIX ETNs may be unsuitable for non-institutional investors and any investor looking to hold investment as opposed to actively trading the investment.   While this warning occurred in October 2017, similar warnings were issued in 2012.  That same month, FINRA fined Wells Fargo for unsuitable recommendations of similar volatility investingstockphoto 1funds.

FINRA stated in 2012 in a Regulatory Notice, RN 12-03, that heightened supervision is required of any broker who sells such complex investments, and specifically identified the need for brokerage firms to oversee any recommendation of an investment based upon the VIX.

While all short VIX trading is suspect and potentially recoverable, the following investments are of particular concern:  XIV, SVXY, VMIN, EXIV, IVOP, LJMIX, LJMAX, XXV, and ZIV.

FINRA is conducting sweep investigations of all brokerages that sold any and all of these investments to retail investors.  ‘The sweep is part of Finra’s continuing focus on the suitability of sales of complex products, including leveraged and volatile products, to retail customers,’ stated FINRA.

In addition to suitability, there is also concern that due diligence by these brokerages should have revealed that the index was subject to manipulation.  This was recently reported by the Financial Times of London.  A scholarly report from researches at the University of Texas in 2017 identified the mechanism for manipulating the VIX.  FT reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission is currently investigating such allegations.

Investors suffering losses in such investments may have valid claims despite the warnings contained in the prospectus.  These investments should not have been offered to any retail investors.

PedersonLaw has represented investors in similar actions in most of the 50 states either directly or pro hac vice.

Wells Fargo Losses

If you suffered losses with Wells Fargo in ETP investments or other investments that you understood to have only low to moderate risk, please call 1-866-817-0201 for a free and confidential consultation with an attorney.

Wells FargoFINRA, the regulator that oversees securities brokerages, ordered Wells Fargo on Monday to pay investors $3.4 million after its advisers recommended “unsuitable” investments known as volatility-linked products that were “highly likely to lose value over time.”

Wells Fargo pushed its investors into these investments, volatility-linked ETPs, as hedges, to protect against a market downturn. In fact, these investments are unsuitable for such a strategy.  The investment are, in reality, “short-term trading products that degrade significantly over time,” regulators said, and “should not be used as part of a long-term buy-and-hold” strategy.  The recommendation of such unsuitable investments is a form of negligence, and could be seen as reckless enough to be considered fraud.

Volatility-linked ETPs are complex products that most investors do not understand and, as such, they rely upon their adviser, who should be a trained professional, to understand.   Certain Wells Fargo representatives mistakenly believed that the products could be used as a long-term hedge on their customers’ equity positions to help safeguard against a downturn in the market. In fact, volatility-linked ETPs are generally short-term trading products that degrade significantly over time and should not be used as part of a long-term buy-and-hold investment strategy.

FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 17-32 shortly after announcing the settlement with Wells Fargo to remind firms of their sales practice obligations relating to these products. Wells Fargo had previously been on notice to provide heightened supervision of complex products such as ETPs in Regulatory Notice 12-03, and were advised, along with all other brokerages, to assess the reasonableness of their own practices and supervision of these products.

FINRA found, “Wells Fargo failed to implement a reasonable system to supervise solicited sales of these products during the relevant time period.”  The complete news release of the FINRA action can be found at the following link.

Losses with Stuart Pearl of Ameriprise

If you have been the victim of unauthorized securities trades or been recommended unsuitable securities by your financial advisor, please call 1-866-817-0201.  We are interested to investors suffering losses with Stuart Pearl.  Mr. Pearl has recently entered into a regulatory settlement where he neither admits or denies the following:

investingstockphoto 1On May 14, 2015, Stuart Pearl used discretion to liquidate positions in six different securities with a total principal amount of approximately $20,000, on behalf of a senior investor. Although the investor had authorized Pearl to execute these liquidations in discussions that took place prior to May 14, 2015, Pearl failed to speak with the investor again on May 14, 2015, to confirm the investor’s authorization to make these sales.

Pearl’s use of discretion as described was without prior written authorization from the investor, and without prior written acceptance of the account as discretionary from his firm, Ameriprise. By virtue of the foregoing, Pearl violated NASD and FINRA rules.

In June 2010, two other customers of Pearl, who were retired and both in their 70s, opened a joint brokerage account with him at Ameriprise. The new account documentation provided that securities could be purchased on margin, a process or lending money to buy securities that involves a great deal of risk.

At the time they opened their account, the investors had an investment objective of “growth and income,” a risk tolerance of”conservative/moderate” and limited experience with trading on margin. They also had a combined annual income of $30,000, a liquid net worth of$500,000 and investable funds of $400,000.

Between September 2011 and March 2012, Pearl recommended that the investors purchase four securities valued at approximately $122,000 on margin. Prior to making those purchases, the customers bad no margin debt balance in their account. As a result of those investments, the investors experienced a significant increase in their margin debt balances in relation to their available funds and their account was subject to seven margin calls during the relevant period, where the parties must deposit funds into their account to pay the outstanding loan or risk liquidation of their portfolio.  The recommendation to purchase such investments utilizing margin was unsuitable and in violation of FINRA and NASD rules prohibiting unsuitable recommendations.

Ameriprise had a duty to oversee the transactions of Pearl and should be responsible for the lack of supervision given Pearl.

More information on this matter can be found in the October 10, 2017 issue of InvestmentNews.

Network 1 Financial ETF Losses

From August 2010 to September 2015 Network 1 Financial failed to establish and enforce a supervisory system reasonably designed to supervise advisor sales of complex investments such as leveraged, inverse, and inverse-leveraged exchange-traded funds (ETFs).  These are the regulatory findings that Network 1 neither denies or admits.  This issue has impacted over one hundreds securities accounts at Network 1.  If you are a Network 1 investor please call 1-866-817-0201 for a free and confidential consultation.

Non-Traditional ETFs are complicated investment vehicles suitable for only a small section of the investing public.  Such ETFs are designed to return a multiple of an underlying index, Such as the Russell 2000, S&P 500 or VIX, the inverse of that benchmark, or both, over the course of a day.

The performance of such ETFs over periods of time longer than a single trading session be very volatile and be substantially risky.  The results, as FINRA states, “can differ significantly from the performance . . . of their underlying index or benchmark during the same period of time.”

FINRA, the regulator of securities brokerages in the United States, has warn brokerages and their advisors that NonTraditional ETFs “are typically not suitable for retail investors who plan to hold them for more than one trading session, particularly in volatile markets.”

Approximately 29 Network 1 financial advisors/brokers traded such ETFs in 167 customer accounts. These representatives executed 645 ETF transactions totaling approximately $48 million in possibly unsuitable trades.

Transactions in Non-Traditional ETFs during the referenced period, Network 1 Financial had inadequate supervisory procedures regarding the suitability and supervision of Non-Traditional ETFs transactions.

 

Loss Recovery from H. Beck

Investors with H. Beck may have grounds for recovery for investment losses in ETFs and other investments.

H. Beck recently consented to a settlement with regulators.  The settlement stated that from at least July 2008 until June 2013, H. Beck failed to properly supervise the sale of nontraditional ETFs and failed to properly supervise the recommendations made by its financial advisors. As a result, H. Beck violated NASD Rules 2310, 3010(a) through (b), and 2110, and FINRA Rules 2111, 3110(a)-(b), and 2010.

Between 2008 and 2011, H. Beck’s financial advisor James Dresselaers recommended to the Firm’s customer, EB, investments in several nontraditional exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”) and stocks issued by companies in the metals and mining sector. These recommendations were unsuitable for EB, a professional athlete with no investment experience, a moderate risk tolerance, and an investment objective of long-term growth. EB suffered losses of more than $1.1 million on these investments.

NASD Rule 3010(a)-(b) and FINRA Rule 3110(a)-(b) require every investment brokerage to establish and maintain a system and procedures to supervise the activities of its financial advisors that is reasonably designed to achieve compliance with securities laws and regulations and applicable NASD/FINRA rules.

FINRA rules require that financial advisors only recommend investments to suitable investors.  So if an investment poses too much risk, or possesses other characteristics that are inconsistent with the wants and needs of the investor, it is a violation to recommend that investment to such an investor.  This is commonly referred to as a “suitability” violation.

This is not the first time H. Beck has been penalized by regulators over non-traditional investments.  In March 2015, H. Beck was censured and fined $425,000 for failing to properly supervise the sale of unit investment trusts (UITs), failing to properly supervise the preparation of account reports sent to investors, and failing to enforce its own written supervisory procedures relating to financial advisors’ outside email accounts, which is a significant protection against fraud. Dresselaers also has a history of customer disputes.   This is concerning since Dresselaers is listed as the top executive at H. Beck.

Such regulatory findings and prior disputes evidence wide-spread supervisory problems at H. Beck and support private claims by investors.

Todd Jones of J.P. Morgan investment fraud

If you have suffered investment losses while investing with J.P. Morgan financial advisor Todd Jones, you may be entitled to a recovery.  Mr. Jones has recently been accused of committing fraud in a large number of his investors’ accounts.  Call 1-866-817-0201 for a free and confidential consultation.

Invest photo 2The regulatory action was initiated by FINRA concerning unauthorized trades by Jones in certain high risk investments.  The FINRA regulatory settlement identifies that in July 2015, while registered with J.P. Morgan, Jones made trades in his investors’ accounts without permission in the accounts of 12 firm customers and mismarked most of the trades as “unsolicited,” which means that the trade was made at the request of the investor.

While many investors believe that their financial advisor or stock broker can make trades as he/she sees fit, regulations require that there must actually be verbal authority from the account owner contemporaneous to the trade.  Absent such verbal authorization, there must written authority.

On July 6 and 7, 2015, Jones exercised discretion to purchase a total of $208,714 of VelocityShares 3x Long Crude Oil (UWTI) in the accounts of 12 firm clients. This investment was not only unauthorized, the investment was also a very risky investment that is designed to multiply the gains or losses of the underlying holdings by three.

None of the 12 clients, had provided Jones with written permission to exercise such trades in their brokerage accounts.  Regulatory rules provides in relevant part that, “No… registered representative shall exercise any discretionary power in a customer’s account unless such customer has given prior written authorization to a stated individual or individuals and the account has been accepted by the member . . .” .

The trades likely enriched Jones by thousands of dollars while putting his clients in financial jeopardy.

Though Jones appears to be out of the securities industry, FINRA impose a fine and a four-month suspension.  Jones neither confessed or denied the allegations.

 

Investors of Paul Vincent Blum

If you suffered losses with Paul Vincent Blum, most recently a financial advisor with RBC, please call 1-866-817-0201.

In 2017, FINRA was conducting an investigation of Blum in connection with customer complaints and arbitration claims alleging, among other things, unsuitable trading. To date, Blum has approximately 23 customer complaints.  Many of the complaints concern his recommendation of energy sector investments to investors not wishing to speculate or unwilling to high levels of risk known to exist in the energy sector.  Many of these complaints were settled by Blum’s employers, including RBC.  He has also been accused of making misrepresentations concerning bonds, including the taxable nature of certain bonds.

On July 21,2017, FINRA staff sent Blum’s counsel a written request for on-the-record testimony pursuant to FINRA Rule 8210. As stated in Blum’s counsel’s email to FINRA of July 25,2017, Blum aclmowledges that he received FINRA’s request and will not appear for on-the-record testimony in front of FINRA. FINRA requires that persons subject to FINRA’s jurisdiction provide information, documents and testimony as part of a FINRA investigation.

As a result of the failure to cooperate in the regulatory investigation of FINRA, Blum has been barred from association with any FINRA member, which would include any and all securities brokerages in the United States.