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Use Commonsense (And Caution) When It Comes to ‘Guaranteed’ Investment Opportunities

R. Allen Stanford’s conviction for running a $7 billion Ponzi scheme is yet another reminder that investors need to keep their guard up when presented with investment opportunities that sound too good to be true.

Stanford was accused of defrauding some 30,000 investors from 113 countries over the course of 20 years with bogus certificates of deposit sold by his bank inAntigua. According to prosecutors, investors thought their funds were being invested into safe and conservative assets when in actuality their money was used to fund risky businesses, as well as Stanford’s lavish lifestyle.

Financial frauds like Stanford’s are far from a rarity. Fraud complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have quadrupled during the past decade and are up 35% in the past three years alone, according to The Rise of Financial Fraud, from the Center for Retirement Research atBoston College. It’s likely, however, that financial fraud is much more pervasive in that it often goes unreported to authorities.

The elderly are particularly vulnerable to financial fraud. Many individuals who become victims suffer from dementia or are desperate to find ways to recoup the financial losses they suffered during the 2008 market downturn.

The Boston College report includes a list of red flags regarding potential financial fraud schemes, including investments that sound too good to be true, financial products that supposedly guarantee high rates of return but little risk, and proposals that include the “free-lunch” seminar.

A Feb. 29 article by CBS Money Watch reminds investors that when presented with a financial opportunity or proposal to be aware of the rates of return that are available with different types of investments. As of March 2, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System shows these rates of return as the following:

– 0.52% for six-month CDs;
– Under 1% for Treasuries with durations of five years or less;
– Returns of 1.97% for 10-year Treasuries and 2.74% for 20-year Treasuries;
– 3.82% and 5.08% returns for corporate bonds, depending on the bond’s duration and quality; and
– Returns of 3.72% for state and local municipal bonds.

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