July 31, 2017
The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy (OIEA) and Broker-Dealer Task Force are warning the more than 5 million Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) participants, and investors in other federal government employee retirement plans, that investment scam artists may pretend to be affiliated with a government agency.
Federal government agencies, including the SEC, do not endorse or sponsor any particular securities, issuers, products, services, professional credentials, firms, or individuals.
If someone offers you an investment opportunity and claims any affiliation with the federal government, follow these tips:
- Do not trust any contact information or a website provided by someone contacting you with an investment idea when that person claims to be affiliated with the government, the TSP, or government retirement plans.
- According to the agency that administers the TSP, the TSP will never contact you by email, telephone, or mail asking you to provide sensitive personal information such as your account number, Social Security number, password, or PIN.
- You can confirm that a seller is not affiliated with a government agency by contacting the agency directly or calling the SEC’s toll-free investor assistance line at (800) 732-0330.
- Always be cautious about providing personal information to anyone you do not personally know.
The SEC recently brought an enforcement action against Federal Employee Benefit Counselors (FEBC), a self-described “national consulting group dedicated to educating federal employees,” whose “mission” was purportedly “to help” federal employees “optimize” their benefits. The SEC’s complaint alleges that FEBC and certain of its employees fraudulently induced federal employees to roll over funds from their TSP accounts into privately issued variable annuities. The SEC alleges that the defendants created the false impression that they were in some way affiliated with, or approved by, the federal government and deceived investors about the fees associated with, and the relative attractiveness of, the privately issued annuities. The SEC alleges the defendants obtained personal information from the employees and then sent them reports that misleadingly described the recommended investment option. The defendants allegedly failed to disclose that this “option” involved investing with a third party that had no government affiliation.
In general, fraudsters may try to deceive investors by using the word “federal” or “government” in the name of their company, copying or imitating government emblems or seals, creating fake correspondence that looks like it is from a government agency, or sending email messages that link to an actual government website.
The TSP is a retirement savings plan administered by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, an independent government agency. The TSP will not contact federal employees about investment opportunities and does not authorize third parties to provide counseling or investment-related services to anyone.
Check out the background, including registration or license status, of anyone recommending or selling an investment through the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure (IAPD) database, available on Investor.gov.