Originally posted at Financial Advisor, by Mitch Anthony.
“Let us have faith that right makes might; and in that faith, to that end, dare to do our duty, as we understand it.”
I certainly could not have predicted the outpouring of sentiment I received after writing my last article, “Harsh Lessons in Modern Con Art” (Financial Advisor magazine; December 2017). The response was immediate and voluminous—and I am both humbled and encouraged by what I read and heard.
The feedback ranged from, “Shame on you, you should have known better”—I believe this was the point of my article—to, “It’s happened to me and to my family … I get it.” (Note: There were more than a few who suggested I “hire Guido!”)
Here are some notable comments from readers:
I Feel Your Pain
So sorry to read about your experience of dealing with a con man, Ponzi-type of scheme. I cannot put all of my thoughts in writing to you, but I’ve been there. I feel your pain. Not me personally losing that amount of money, but yes, my Dad and Mom … $900K. And yes, I lived through it all.
The year was 1991 when it “hit the fan.” Dad and Mom were ages 57/58. Life savings, working two jobs most of his life, with Mom rearing four children, managing the expenses, no debt, real savers, etc. … You’ve known the story.
Dad started confiding in his banker son at that time (me) when I was age 34. Interest rates at the bank were 8%, but he was getting 15% from “Melvin.” I kept asking him why Melvin had to pay so much more than the bank. Couldn’t he get all the funds he wanted at 10%-11%? Dad’s reply was that Melvin could afford to do it. I did get Dad’s attention along the way, and with a joint meeting with Melvin, confronted him with several requests that caused him to be very defensive. We walked out of his office, and Dad said, “Son, what do you think?” I said, “Dad, it’s all over; he is a crook.” We went straight to the district attorney’s office. Anyway, all funds were gone. Mom died first at age 72, Dad at age 77, both of them too young, and each suffered physical health and emotional consequences from this event. If there is any irony in this saga, the smooth-talking Melvin was eventually locked up, and after one year in prison, he died in prison from tongue/throat cancer.
Well, I’m age 61 now, and those memories/lessons are very vivid. But, like I said … you know the story all too well. I’ll certainly reach out to the lawmakers in N.C.”
—John Collins, MBA
I’ve Seen It Myself
When I began my career in financial services, I worked for an independent insurance agency that was out to save the world from the evils of whole life insurance. We used Company X for our solution provider and replaced people’s expensive and underinsured whole life policies with term and then helped them invest the rest.
This agency gave me some of the best training I ever received in client-centered sales.
About 10 years ago, I got a call from one of the founders of that agency that his former co-founder was going to prison for embezzling about $9 million from his clients, also offering them promissory notes for an investment in his own firm. His clients were lifelong friends, and he was in his 60s at the time. He eventually served seven years in prison, but that didn’t help the people he swindled, some non-English-speaking Lithuanians from his Chicago neighborhood. He was Lithuanian and played on this to gain their confidence and their money.
And you know what? I thought he was one of the most honest people I had ever met. I worked with him for seven years and he was an amazing guy, but …
I have no sympathy for him. How someone can swindle a 40-plus year friend, numerous elderly couples who gave him everything, etc., etc., I will never understand.
I’m sorry this happened to you, but I am so proud of you for sharing this story. It is so important to bring all of this dark into the light. Others will learn from your experience; so once again, you are spending your time and efforts helping others. Thank you for that!
I Want To Spread The Word
I’d like to spread the word about [Wendell] Corey to my own clients and also to other advisors as a current board member of the Toledo Estate Planning Council. The best way to do that would be with the help of your article. Is it possible to obtain a link to the article that can be used in social media?
I was reading your referenced article in the December 2017 issue of Financial Advisor magazine. Your experience with the “con” was both terrible and educational. I am asking for your permission to copy and share this article with many of my clients. You made an excellent point that we are all constantly learning and being exposed to increasingly sophisticated schemes to defraud every day. There are lessons to be learned from your experience.
Fanatical Due Diligence Is Required
Our B-D’s CEO will not approve a product for our platform unless he has access to the books and records of the promoter. One product that some advisors were clamoring for was rejected because [the vendor] would not open [its] books. Some advisors were angry, but later when the vendor ran into trouble, they began to appreciate rigorous due diligence.
Due diligence is not a guarantee that you can’t run into trouble, but it sure helps.
We Need More Insights On Vetting
It’s surprising how much due diligence is necessary on an investment. I’d love to read an article on how to vet private investments.
—An Advisor In Memphis
Editor’s Note: Please read the article by iCapital’s Nick Veronis and Carolyn Rasmussen addressing this subject on page 55.
Advisors Can Be Protected When Reporting
Perhaps you are following this recent legislation that would give financial advisors civil liability protection when they report suspected financial abuse of seniors; [it] advanced in the Senate last Tuesday. This is not on point, but getting closer. I read your article, “Harsh Lessons in Modern Con Art.” … We need this on 60 Minutes.
—Rich Hoholik, Madison, Wis.
I heard not only from readers like these. I also heard from many industry leaders who offered the general encouragement, “Keep fighting this fight, and let us know how we can help.” One person who really offered actionable assistance was Duane Thompson, whose name you probably recognize for his years of legislative lobbying on behalf of the FPA. Duane was very generous with his time and knowledge of the legislative landscape, and I’m most grateful for his guidance. As he reminded me, “It’s no small matter getting a law changed.”
That’s true, but we can get it done, especially with the help of the judiciary committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. In particular, we need to look at Title 18, Section 3282 of the United States Code, which deals with the statute of limitations for fraud. It’s outdated. It encourages criminal behavior for those who know how to play the system.
Any of us could get fooled, and some of us have. I would be careful about saying, “It could never happen to me.” Best to be skeptical with any investment proposition and be sure the person offering the idea and the idea itself both demonstrate high principles.
If a lot of learned, competent and noteworthy citizens have been cleaned out, what hope does this leave for the unlearned and overlooked? We must do what we can to protect them.
I’m looking forward to reading the new biography on Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow—especially to mine further the topic of Grant’s friendship with Mark Twain. One of their bonds was that they both had histories of making bad investments. Twain, for the most part, was a dreamer who ended up too far out on the bleeding edge of technologies that didn’t make it to market and partners who cheated him on deals. Grant, meanwhile, fell into the confidences of investment hucksters on Wall Street who stripped him of almost everything he had.
In Twain’s autobiography, we learn that he offered to write Grant’s memoirs—largely to help his friend restore his estate. These two famous Americans’ experiences with investments serve to remind us that no matter how learned or skilled one is in one realm, it won’t make up for naiveté and misplaced trust when it comes to placing a fortune.
Let’s do what we can as a profession to protect those who have suffered such fates. I thank all of you, kind readers, for your moving responses and for any actions you may take to help protect investors. If we will all dare to do what we can … right will make might.
Mitch Anthony is the author of the industry best seller StorySelling for Financial Advisors and the groundbreaking The New Retirementality (now in its fourth edition). A highly sought-after speaker, Mitch is widely regarded as a thought leader and pioneer in Financial Life Planning.