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Criminals Continue to Use Religion to Prey on Investors

Thu, May. 11, 2017 Posted: 02:06 AM

On December 18, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a warning to investors about affinity frauds. Affinity frauds are investment scams that target members of specific groups, including religious groups. The fraudsters gain trust because they are either members of the group themselves, or they pretend to be a member.

It is unfathomable that a person would intentionally target members of a church, however we are seeing it quite often. In March of 2017, ChristianPost published an article about Ephren Taylor, who was sentenced in an $16 million Ponzi scheme that targeted Megachuches. In 2013, ChristianPost wrote an article about Michael Winans, Jr., who was sentenced for running an $8 million Ponzi scheme targeting churches.

According to FBI Special Agent Michael Pickett, the FBI has opened 10 new cases in the last four months and is investigation more than $2 billion worth of fraud in the Utah area alone. Unfortunately, the occurrence of these types of frauds does not seem to be slowing down.

John Huber, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah, was quoted in the recent FBI release expressing his anger towards the fraudsters: “What’s so disconcerting is that these criminals approach us at church or through associations at our work or referrals from friends. They are silver-tongued devils—wolves in sheep’s clothing who will take our money and we’ll never see it again.”

If you believe you are a victim of affinity fraud, you should speak with a securities fraud attorney. Some tips for avoiding fraud include:

If an investment sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Use the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) Brokercheck tool to make sure the person selling the investment is properly licensed.
Do not invest in something that you do not understand.
Research the person selling the investment and the company you are investing in.
Obtain opinions from professionals (attorneys, accountants, etc.) prior to investing.

Lynn Joesph