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Meet The Cops On The Financial Beat

Who to call when you've been cheated

a courtroom gavel is in front of a stock maket chart displayed on a computer screen
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If your home’s been burglarized, you know exactly whom to call: your local police. But whom do you call if you think a broker, insurer, bank or scam artist has taken advantage of you? Here are some common complaints and concerns, and where to take them.

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Is my investment adviser legit?

The cop: Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)

How it can help: At adviserinfo.sec.gov, you can look up investment advisers or brokers and learn about their business and past disciplinary issues. Visit investor.gov (under Get Help); there you can learn how to file an investment-related complaint about a company or financial professional.

Its larger mission: The SEC makes sure that the public markets for stocks, bonds and other investments are operated fairly and efficiently. That includes, for example, going after suspected Ponzi schemes and making sure that companies don’t give false information to their stockholders.

Note: You should also check with your state securities regulator. You may be eligible for money recovered from criminals. But that might be far less than your losses.

I told my broker I wanted low-risk investments, but he ignored me.

The cop: Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)

How it can help: If you have a dispute with a broker, you can go to FINRA to file a complaint or request arbitration or mediation. At brokercheck.finra.org, you can also check a broker’s or firm’s experience and past problems. FINRA’s toll-free Securities Helpline for Seniors (844-574-3577) is available to answer questions and address concerns.

Its larger mission: FINRA oversees U.S. brokers and brokerage firms. It sets rules for sales practices, disciplines misbehavior and provides a forum for investor complaints.

Note: Even if your broker has violated industry rules, FINRA can’t guarantee you’ll get back any money that you may have lost.

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A lot of my friends from church are working with the same financial adviser. They’re getting high returns. Should I invest with him?

The cops: State securities regulators

How they can help: You can call or reach out online to your regulator if you need assistance vetting potential advisers, brokers or financial products — or if you need help after you’ve invested. Your regulator can investigate possible wrongdoing and determine whether there are actionable violations. To find the regulator in your state, visit nasaa.org/contact-your-regulator.

Their larger mission: Enforcing state securities laws and overseeing smaller brokers and investment advisers.

A debt collector told me I’d go to jail if I didn’t pay him today.

The cop: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

How it can help: If you have a problem with a debt collector, bank or another company providing a consumer financial product or service, you can submit a complaint to the CFPB online, or by phone at 855-411-2372, and it will work to get a response to your issue. Most businesses it contacts respond within 15 days.

Its larger mission: The CFPB is a federal agency that polices lenders, banks, credit bureaus, debt collectors and other financial organizations to make sure they treat you fairly and adhere to consumer protection laws.

My home insurer paid only part of my claim when my house burned down.

The cops: State insurance regulators

How they can help: Your state’s insurance regulator is where you can go if you feel an insurance claim was underpaid or wrongly denied. They can provide an independent review of your case and, if necessary, help facilitate corrective action. Find your state’s regulator at content.naic.org/state-insurance-departments.

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Their larger mission: These offices are intended to create a fair and competitive marketplace for insurance in their state, including home, auto, health and life. They also regulate insurance products, such as fixed and variable annuities.

I got a telephone solicitation from an animal-rescue charity, but I think it was a scam.

The cop: Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

How it can help: If you file a complaint at reportfraud.ftc.gov about a fraud, scam or shady business practice, the FTC will provide you with information on what steps to take next. The agency will also add your complaint to its database, which is accessible to nearly 3,000 law enforcement entities. Signing up for its National Do Not Call Registry helps you avoid telemarketers, though it won’t weed out all solicitations from scammers.

Its larger mission: To protect you from unfair, deceptive and anticompetitive business activities.

Note: The FTC won’t open a case on your behalf. Instead, it uses complaint information for its own investigations. In cases where it gets a settlement, it may use its complaint database to find people eligible for refunds.

An auto dealer sold me a lemon and refuses to take it back.

The cops: State attorneys general

How they can help: If you think you’ve been burned in a retail transaction, you can file a complaint with your state AG’s office, which may offer services to help resolve the issue, such as informal mediation between you and the business. Their involvement will vary case by case and state by state. AGs also disseminate information on savvy shopping and the red flags of companies behaving badly. Find out how to contact your state’s attorney general at consumerresources.org.

Their larger mission: As the chief legal officer in your state or territory, your attorney general upholds consumer protection laws and protects the public interest.

Note: State AGs represent the public interest, not individuals, and don’t provide private legal counsel.

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