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When it comes to protecting investments, one of the most useful strategies is awareness. Investors can empower themselves by knowing the basics of the most commonly used investment fraud tactics.

Per the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), three of the most common investment fraud tactics employed by scammers in the United States are known as the “phantom riches” tactic, the “source credibility” tactic, and the “social consensus” tactic. [1]

Each tactic essentially functions by allowing the fraudster to build a false narrative surrounding their supposed investment opportunity, thereby garnering interest and ultimately investment dollars from unsuspecting investor victims.

The theft of an estimated $190 million in cryptocurrency this week from a blockchain bridge, Nomad, is just the latest in a string of similar heists targeting the crypto sector. Crypto investors are encouraged to remain wary of this and similar threats to their crypto assets as they make investment decisions.

Increasingly, crypto thieves are setting their sights on blockchain “bridges,” which facilitate the transfer of cryptocurrencies between separate blockchains. [1]  Once a blockchain bridge is breached, hackers and thieves have the ability to steal massive sums of crypto tokens from their rightful owners.

Blockchain bridges have been built to solve one of the crypto sector’s critical flaws – a lack of interoperability between different cryptocurrencies. Bridges allow crypto users to transfer their assets from one cryptocurrency to another without the need to engage in the transaction-heavy process of selling off their initial tokens to purchase new tokens of a different cryptocurrency. [1]

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With the recent release of the Netflix true crime documentary, “The Tinder Swindler,” public attention to a unique form of financial fraud is growing, as is the number of lawsuits filed against the film’s subject, Simon Leviev.

The documentary chronicles the experiences of three innocent victims of the so-called “Tinder Swindler.” [1] These women each met Leviev over online dating platforms, and as their individual relationships grew, each woman faced widespread deception, collectively costing them millions of dollars. [2] In fact, not even Leviev’s name was genuine – although Simon Leviev is currently the perpetrator’s legal name, he was born Shimon Hayut, and only changed his name in an effort to prop up his fraudulent schemes by posing as the son of a powerful diamond tycoon. [1]

Leviev’s schemes operated in an established pattern, wherein each victim provided the financial means necessary to support Leviev’s lavish lifestyle, thus allowing him to attract new victims. Leviev posed as the son of the mega-rich diamond tycoon, Lev Leviev, on Tinder, setting the bait for his unsuspecting victims. Once he matched with a potential victim, Leviev’s deception began. First, Leviev flaunted his supposed wealth by inviting victims for trips on private planes, to expensive clubs, and to five star hotels across the globe. [4]

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A former Texas financial advisor, William Gallagher (“Gallagher”), was sentenced on November 3, 2021, to three life terms in prison for his role in orchestrating a $32 million Ponzi scheme. [1] The Ponzi scheme specifically targeted elderly Christian investors who believed they were investing their retirement funds with a trusted financial advisor, only to later learn that their savings had been decimated.

This sentencing comes after 80-year-old Gallagher pleaded guilty in Texas in August 2021 to three charges relating to the scheme, each bearing a life sentence.

Fraudulent investment schemes targeted at a particular audience such as this one are referred to as cases of affinity fraud. Affinity fraudsters often abuse their position as a trusted member of a particular community to draw in unsuspecting investors, ultimately bilking them of their hard-earned money.

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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ponzi schemes have continued to pose a serious threat to unsuspecting investors here in Florida and around the world. On August 9, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a complaint in federal court against Johanna Garcia, of Broward County, and two companies she owns, MJ Capital Funding, LLC and MJ Taxes and More, for an alleged Ponzi scheme. [1]

The complaint alleges that Garcia has been operating a Ponzi scheme in which she has taken upwards of $70 million from over 2,000 investors under the guise that the investments funded Merchant Cash Advances (MCAs) for small businesses in need. Instead, the complaint alleges, the investments are being used in a “classic Ponzi scheme fashion” not to fund MCAs, but to pay the “returns” of investors before them. [2]

While MJ Taxes has been in existence since 2016, MJ Capital Funding was formed in June 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic had already taken hold. From June until October 2020, MJ Taxes solicited six-month investments which typically promised a 10% monthly return, extrapolated out to substantial 120% annual returns. MJ Capital took over in October 2020, continuing to advertise as a source for MCAs while promising investors large and consistent returns.

On the heels of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (“FINRA”) record-breaking financial penalty against app-based investing platform Robinhood, it’s a fitting time to consider recent trends within FINRA’s industry-wide arbitration process.

As an organization, FINRA’s main function is to protect investors by upholding the integrity of the market through careful oversight of brokers in the United States. In doing so, FINRA operates a dispute resolution forum for arbitration and/or mediation of both intra-industry and customer-industry disputes. FINRA is also authorized by the United States government to protect investor interests through diligent screening and analysis of the billions of market transactions that occur each day. [1]

Whether a dispute arises between industry actors or between customer(s) and an industry actor, FINRA facilitates a neutral dispute resolution process by providing unbiased, trained arbitrators or mediators to guide cases through to completion. While the FINRA dispute resolution process proceeds similarly to a case within the court system, FINRA cases typically resolve more quickly and efficiently than traditional cases do, and appeals on FINRA outcomes are generally not accepted.

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In light of the ever-expanding role of digital technology in daily life, along with a string of recent high-profile cyberattacks, it is fitting that the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has included cybersecurity risks on their 2021 regulatory agenda. The SEC last provided cybersecurity guidance in 2018, though critics argue that the 2018 Guidance was insufficient and merely reiterated the SEC’s formal guidance from 2011. [1] However, given recent executive-branch interest in cybersecurity issues, it is predicted that cybersecurity rules set forth in 2021 will offer more actionable and concrete protective measures for investors.  [1]

As a vast swath of sensitive, personal data is shared in the digital space, and as businesses and the government rely increasingly on complex computing systems to maintain their operations, cyber risks have multiplied exponentially. Cyber attackers target sensitive personal data in an effort to compromise a business, a business’s clients, or the public at large, often while demanding a ransom.

So far in 2021, numerous cyberattacks have taken place. Most notably, the Colonial Pipeline was hacked in May, resulting in gasoline shortages across the Southern United States, and in June, a cyberattack on a large meat manufacturer halted a quarter of all beef operations in the United States for two days. [2] Countless other large- and small-scale cyberattacks occur regularly, amplifying the need for investor protection from such future occurrences.

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The Supreme Court of the United States dealt a blow – at least for now – to plaintiff shareholders as part of its long-awaited June 21, 2021 decision in Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. v. Arkansas Teacher Retirement System.

The Plaintiffs, all Goldman shareholders, filed this securities fraud class-action suit against Goldman in Federal court back in 2011. They alleged that Goldman had misrepresented itself in violation of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, leading to an inflated stock price. [1] The Plaintiffs asserted that Goldman’s misrepresented itself by stating “[o]ur clients’ interests always come first” and touting their “extensive procedures and controls that are designed to identify and address conflicts of interest.” [2]

The Plaintiffs alleged that these statements were false or misleading to shareholders, since Goldman was engaged in conflicted transactions at the time the statements were made. [2] Once the public was made aware of these conflicts following a government enforcement action, Goldman’s price dropped, which the Plaintiffs allege caused them to lose a combined $13 billion. [3]

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Regulation of cryptocurrency remains broadly uncharted in the United States, even as its popularity has exploded. The uncertainty shrouding crypto regulation stems largely from complexities within the blockchain on which it is based and from difficulties with its classification – is it a commodity? Is it a security? Is it property? Experts, agencies, and blockchain companies all disagree.

Currently, the United States has neither comprehensive legislation nor a comprehensive regulatory scheme to govern the classification, usage, and taxation of cryptocurrency. As it stands, the sale of crypto is regulated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission only if the crypto in question is considered a security.[1]

This can present some thorny issues, particularly when tokens represent themselves as “utility tokens” with value beyond equity or a share in a company. Such tokens do not fall under the purview of the SEC and can thus result in a lack of investor protections. [1]

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In light of the recent market volatility brought on by social media and the meme stock frenzy, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is beginning to investigate whether rule changes are in order for the market structures which foster these situations. During a speech on June 9th, 2021, newly appointed SEC chairman Gary Gensler spoke of the SEC’s role in protecting individual investors who trade securities via brokerages like Robinhood, which utilize high-speed trading platforms called wholesalers to execute these trades.

In the wake of chairman Gensler’s remarks, shares of Virtu Financial, Inc., the second largest wholesaler by volume in the United States, fell 7.7% on the heels of a surge in share price during the meme stock craze of 2021. [1]

One system which the SEC has pointed to as in need of review is that of payment for order flow. Payment for order flow has ushered in market volatility in meme stocks like GameStop and AMC, because this system powers a good deal of app-based securities trading. It allows individual investors to trade at the current market price without paying commission on their orders. A familiar example exists within the app-based platform, Robinhood.

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