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5 Ways to Avoid a Ponzi Scheme:

October 16, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Imagine trusting your hard-earned money—such as your retirement savings—to a financial adviser only to lose it all in a fraudulent scheme. Obsessing about whether your money manager could be the next Bernard Madoff, the alleged mastermind of a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, isn’t going to do much good, but some healthy skepticism won’t hurt. Here are five tips for investors so they can avoid getting taken to the cleaners:

Make sure your adviser is legit. If you’re looking for an adviser, ask friends and relatives for recommendations—but don’t stop there. A scary truth is that anyone can call himself or herself a financial planner or adviser, so it pays to check with national organizations that issue credentials. They include the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers, the Financial Planning Association, and the Certified Financial Board of Standards. Each offers a searchable database with contact information for planners in each state. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has a list of CPAs who’ve earned the personal financial specialist designation.


Dig deep. Put on your gumshoes and find out how long the adviser has been in the business. Ask to see his or her ADV Form, Part II, which a planner files with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It contains information about the adviser’s background, services, and fees. Check for complaints filed though your state’s securities regulator (contact information is available here). A site visit might also be helpful, says Tim Kochis, chief executive of Aspiriant, a wealth management firm with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles that caters to high-net-worth clients. "Reputation and apparent track record are not enough," he says. "You have to go way beyond that to really investigate the operations of the org and find out if what is claimed is real."

Understand the difference between a manager and a custodian. A custodian, which would include the Fidelitys and Charles Schwabs of the world, is in possession of your investment account and issues periodic statements of transactions. The manager of assets executes those transactions. "A lot of people fail to understand why it’s important to separate these functions," says Kochis. "Frauds almost always occur when those two things are put together." In other words, look out for an investment manager who wants complete control of your money and asks that checks be made out to him or her. You can sleep tight if your funds are in the custody of a broker-dealer firm regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and backed by the Securities Investor Protection Corp. But make sure you receive at least quarterly statements, says Mickey Cargile, founder and managing partner WNB Private Client Services, which is based in Midland, Texas. "The key is that you get it directly from the custodian and not from the adviser."

Be skeptical of pitches for exotic or obscure products. Banks, brokerages, and planners offer a wide range of financial products, including exotic investments that incorporate leverage and complex derivatives. If you get a pitch for an asset class you’re not familiar with, make sure you understand the process by which it achieves returns. Jim Wiandt, editor and publisher of the Journal of Indexes and publisher of, puts it like this: "If you don’t understand it, you shouldn’t be in it." Cargile takes it a step further: "Only invest in transparent assets. We don’t invest in anything we can’t turn to cash in three days or less, which limits us to stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds." A hedge fund, which isn’t required to disclose its holdings, is an example of a nontransparent investment. Also, be especially wary if your adviser downplays or denies risk.

Be especially vigilant if you’re nearing or in retirement. According to a recent study by the North American Securities Administrators Association, nearly half of all investor complaints submitted to state securities agencies came from the senior set. According to the association, bogus operators sometimes con older investors through free-lunch seminars that are followed by calls from salespeople a few days later (a common recommendation is to liquidate securities and use the proceeds to buy indexed or variable annuities).

How Tenant Screening Services Can Save A Landlord From Court

October 15, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Tenant screening services can really do wonders if you are a landlord.  Prevention is key as a landlord, as the more work you put in on the front end to be sure that you have the best possible renters will make all of the difference in saving you money on the back end when you have the renter in the building.


Let us look at an example of two potential renters who have applied for an apartment.  One of them has a perfect credit history and has no criminal record.  The other has a history of not paying rent, and has a pretty suspect criminal record with some pretty decent blemishes on it, certainly not clean by any stretch.  If screening services were not utilized on these applicants, the one with the criminal record could have easily lied on the application and could have been chosen for the apartment.


What these screening services do is to provide landlords with a very clear picture of who they are getting as a new renter in their apartment, condo, or whatever else they are renting.  Services provided by include things such as a renter eviction search as well as a look at the renter’s history with their driving record.  This is only scratching the surface of some of the services at a landlords disposal.  These are far less costly than ending up in court because someone will not pay rent or did a criminal act in your building.

Using Form N400, Green Card Holders Can Become US Citizens

October 8, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Many green card holders living in the United States may not realize that they are already eligible to be legal and full-blown U.S. citizens.  Citizenship can be obtained through what is known as naturalization with the help of form N400.


So what exactly is this form and how can it help you become a citizen?  When you have Lawful Permanent Resident status, you are a green card holder you can be of age to use this form to be a citizen.


These green card holders who are over the age of 18 may meet eligibility requirements to apply to be citizens.  Those eligibility requirements include holding a green card for the past 5 years.  If you are married, you can apply with this form after holding a green card for 3 years.  Serving in the U.S. armed forces during war can help speed up this process and make you exempt from the waiting period.


Naturalization and immigration have been utilized to become full citizens for years now.  Companies such as the American Immigration Center Inc can help you fill out the form and be sure that you have all of the required documentation.  If you are a valid green card holder and have lost your green card, you can utilize what is known as form I90 to replace a lost or stolen green card.  Naturalization is a great privilege for green card holders and if taken advantage of, can have you on the road to being a full U.S. citizen before you even knew it was possible.