From simple questions like "What is an annuity?" to suspicions of fraud, staff at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's Securities Helpline for Seniors® have heard it all—and they're happy to help.
April 20th marks the three-year anniversary of the Senior Helpline, which FINRA launched to provide senior investors a source of trustworthy information and assistance. Since 2015, the Helpline's dedicated and knowledgeable staff has taken over 13,000 calls, including over 1,000 so far in 2018.
What Types of Calls Do We Receive?
The calls generally fall into one of four categories: questions regarding basic investment concepts or research; calls from beneficiaries who are having trouble locating or transferring their deceased parents' assets; concerns about unsuitable or excessive trading; and allegations of potential fraud. In some cases, investors called for help when misconduct, miscommunication or errors by their brokers resulted in the losses from their accounts.
When a call comes into the Helpline, a FINRA staffer works proactively with brokerage firms, to resolve the person's question or concern—and such interventions can lead, in some cases, to monetary reimbursement. Since the Helpline's inception, brokerage firms have voluntarily returned more than $5.3 million to brokerage customers because of information provided by the Helpline.
Can the Helpline Really Help?
In one case, Helpline staff learned that the sister of a 71-year old caller impersonated the caller and opened an unauthorized joint brokerage account without the caller's consent. The caller's sister took money from a separate, existing joint account the two women co-owned and deposited it into the new account. When opening the new account, the caller's sister went so far as to provide the firm with a copy of the caller's stolen driver license as proof of identification. Helpline staff worked with the firm to inform them of the facts and circumstances. Once the firm determined the new account was fraudulently opened, and that the caller was unaware of the fraud, it returned the caller's portion of the unauthorized contribution that was taken from the original joint account. The State of Connecticut ultimately charged the sister with two counts of forgery and two counts of grand larceny.
Another case involved a 61-year old caller who had purchased a structured certificate of deposit, or CD. The caller stated that the terms of the CD were not consistent with what he understood at the time of the purchase, which was that the CD would pay 2.5 to 3.5 percent per year. Instead, when he received the confirmation, he noticed the return spread over the six-year life of the product. This made the yearly return less than he was earning in the savings account where was keeping the money to begin with. Helpline staff contacted the firm and discussed the sale, after which the firm agreed to sell the CD and reimburse the customer for any costs and loss of earnings incurred.
A Three-Year Lookback
The Helpline has been a FINRA-wide effort, involving staff from offices across the country. Partnership comes from the Office of Fraud Detection and Market Intelligence who assists in assessing the regulatory intelligence received by the Helpline and assigning it to the appropriate FINRA department for review and the Department of Member Regulation whose staff routinely receives the assignments and conducts examinations into any alleged misconduct. The Helpline also partners closely with FINRA's Office of Investor Education to create investor resources or investor alerts based information and concerns shared by Helpline callers.
Here is a by-the-numbers look at the Helpline's success through the end of March 2018:
|50||States represented by Helpline callers. The most calls have come from Florida, California and New York. Calls have also come from Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.|
|17 to 102||The age range of Helpline callers.|
|70||The average age of Helpline callers.|
|166||Matters referred to Adult Protective Services.|
|1,017||Matters referred to state, federal and foreign regulators.|
If you are a senior investor with questions or concerns about your brokerage account statements or your investments, call the Helpline toll-free at 844-57-HELPS (844-574-3577) Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Eastern Time.