Kane In Your Corner: Stock market problems open doors for scams

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The recent sell-off on Wall Street could put your life savings at risk, in more ways than one. When the market plummets, consumer advocates tell Kane In Your Corner that investors are more likely to get scammed by shady financial advisors.

One of their biggest pieces of advice: avoid high pressure sales tactics. "Definitely a red flag," says Bob Russo, president of the Consumers League of New Jersey. "Take your time, get second opinions, ask other financial advisors or family members and friends, others you normally ask what you should do with your money."

Also, be wary of "free investment seminars." While some may offer solid advice, many end in high pressure sales pitches.

Be suspicious of investments that supposedly offer risk-free guaranteed returns, experts say. Several financial professionals tell Kane In Your Corner that these days, legitimate risk-free investments tend to return a maximum of 3 percent a year, so if someone is offering to triple that return with absolutely no risk, it should be a red flag.

Before you hire a financial advisor, check their credentials. Brokers have to be registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. FINRA also offers an online database where consumers can learn if a broker is licensed or has faced disciplinary action. Investment advisors must be registered with the state of New Jersey and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Finally, if you already have a financial professional advising you, experts offer two pieces of advice. Beware of anyone offering a chance to make up all the losses of the past several days in a single investment: investing is a long-term proposition and high-risk "double or nothing" investments are not suitable for the vast majority of consumers. And keep an eye out for "churning," a practice where unscrupulous brokers make excessive trades on a client's behalf, often for no apparent logical reason. Brokers generally get paid a commission per transaction, so a large number of unnecessary trades will cost a consumer money at the broker's expense.

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