Be Cautious When Investing, Even on Friends’ Advice, Experts Say

(Sun Sentinel/MCT) -

Day after day, week after week, month after month, the headlines keep screaming the same sad tales.

Identity theft, fraud, investor scams. It all happens far too often.

The first line of defense when you’re investing money? It starts with the person in the mirror. Every investor needs to be doing their due diligence, financial advisors say. If you’re going to be investing your money with a financial planner, you better know everything you possibly can about that person and his firm.

“Make sure there are no red flags,” said Plantation, Fla. financial planner Ben Tobias. He recommends doing thorough research and also asking questions about what’s in it for the planner when he or she is recommending investments. Many may be more interested in their commissions and personal earnings than they are about their clients’ portfolio performances.

“Obtain in writing the dollar amount of that compensation,” said Tobias, who has served on a national board reviewing complaints against financial planners. “If someone is getting paid to give you advice, shouldn’t you know how much that person is getting paid, and where their loyalties lie?”

Some financial advisers may be tempted by high commissions to recommend an investment that may not be as financially sound as others – and may not be the best for a client, added Tobias.

A now-disbarred Florida adviser, Jeffrey Rubin, encouraged 31 athletes to invest in a now-bankrupt Alabama casino where he was getting paid $500,000 and a four-percent ownership stake, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or FINRA, the largest independent securities regulator in the United States.

The athletes ended up losing some $40 million, regulators found. Several players have now filed lawsuits, some in Broward Circuit Court.

To avoid a similar financial meltdown, investors should first check the advisor’s background before parting with any money, Tobias said.

In fact, investors should check on any broker or financial adviser before they take their friends’ or colleagues’ advice to invest with the person, said Pembroke Pines, Fla. financial adviser Eric Pettus.

Many scammers rely on others recommending them – such as convicted Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff, who met many investors at the Palm Beach (Fla.) Country Club. Rubin, who operated Pro Sports Financial in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., handled the finances of mostly professional football players, some of whom attended the University of Florida in the 1990s when he did.

People can go to FINRA.org and click on “BrokerCheck” to see if any complaints have been filed against a broker or financial adviser.

Rubin, for example, had several complaints – one as early as 2004, according to FINRA records. Investors complained of faked signatures, negligence and misrepresentation, the records show. He also was accused of recommending unsuitable, high-risk and speculative investments. Earlier this month, Rubin voluntarily agreed to give up his broker’s license without admitting guilt.

Rubin could not be reached for comment for this report. His West Palm Beach, Fla. attorney, Patricia Christiansen, said earlier she would not have any comment about his cases.