The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has recently filed criminal charges against investment adviser William Neil “Doc” Gallagher who has been accused by the SEC of operating a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme in which he victimized mostly elderly clients since 2014.  According to the SEC, Gallagher solicited his clients through appearances on radio shows including a Christian-talk radio station.  He appealed to religious clients also through his book “Jesus Christ, Money Master:  Four Eternal Truths That Deliver Personal Power and Profit.”  However, instead of investing the funds provided to him by his clients, the SEC says that Gallagher primarily used the funds to support his own lavish lifestyle and to pay early investors with the money provided by later investors which is the hallmark of a Ponzi scheme.  Gallagher’s scam is also a  good example of what is called affinity fraud where people put undeserved trust in someone offering an investment opportunity because that person is “someone like me.”  Affinity fraud works because people trust other people who may share a common bond, such as family, religion or some other group affiliation.   The list goes on and on.  Scammers take advantage of every connection they can make with their victims to gain their trust and then steal their money.  In Gallagher’s case, his victims put undeserved trust in him because he seemed legitimate on the radio and espoused the same religious views that they did.

TIPS

Before investing with anyone, you should investigate the person offering to sell you the investment with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Central Registration Depository.  This will tell you if the broker is licensed and if there have been disciplinary procedures against him or her.  You can also check with your own state’s securities regulation office for similar information.  Many investment advisers will not be required to register with the SEC, but are required to register with your individual state’s securities regulators.   You can find your state’s agency by going to the website of the North American Securities Administrators Association.  In the case of Gallagher, he has not been a Registered Investment Adviser since 2009. Many investment advisers will not be required to register with the SEC, but are required to register with your individual state securities regulators.   You can find your state’s agency by going to the website of the North American Securities Administrators Association.   You should also check with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for information about the particular  investment adviser.

It is also important to remember that you should never  invest in something that you do not completely understand.  This was a mistake that many of Bernie Madoff’s victims made.  You also may want to check out the SEC’s investor education website at www.investor.gov.  Scammers can be very convincing and it may sound like there is a great opportunity for someone to make some money, but you must be careful that the person making money is not the scam artist taking yours. Additionally, investing with someone merely because you trust them because you have heard them on the radio or television is dangerous. Having the same person advise the investment and control the investment such as was the case with Gallagher is a common thread among Ponzi schemers because it enables them to falsify documents to make the investment look profitable. Generally, for additional security it is desirable to have a separate broker-dealer act as custodian for investments chosen by an investment adviser.

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