Forum Launches Statewide Education Campaign in Vermont
Lt. Robert Kalinowski has been a Vermont state trooper for 24 years, but even he couldn’t prevent a con man from stealing his father’s money.
“If it could happen to my family, it could happen to any Vermont family,” he said.
Kalinowski was one of several speakers to participate in the FINRA Investor Education Foundation’s kickoff forum in South Burlington Vermont. The forum is part of the Foundation’s national effort seeking to protect older investors from investment fraud by helping them recognize they’re vulnerable.
The June workshop is the first of many presentations that will be held in small and large venues across the state through the summer and fall. The goal is to have workshops held in every county throughout the state. These workshops will help seniors identify common persuasion tactics used by fraudsters and teach them how to protect themselves.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better kickoff event,” said John Gannon, president of the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and a panelist at the forum. “The turn out was great, and I believe everyone left better equipped to ask the right questions and check what they are told with the securities regulators.”
The “ask and check” message is the focus of the campaign and describes the two critical steps every investor should take before giving anyone their money. “Americans have lost more than $2 trillion of their retirement nest eggs and are now desperate to get ready for retirement,” Gannon told the approximately 300 people who attended the event. “Unfortunately, that creates the perfect opportunity for scam-artists to pitch their too-good-to-be-true and get-rick-quick schemes.”
Kalinowski drove home the point that everyone is vulnerable, even in Vermont. His father was victimized shortly after Kalinowski’s mother was admitted to a nursing home. The culprit had ties to the community, Kalinowski said, treated Kalinowski’s father kindly and even took him to local high school sporting events.
Unknown to Kalinowski or other family members, the man began to borrow money from Kalinowski’s father. As his father’s health began to fail, Kalinowski’s sister realized a number of discrepancies in their father’s investments and checking account statements. It wasn’t until the man stopped returning phone calls about the money that Kalinowski’s father realized he had been scammed.
There were personal loans with little or no documentation and investments in products that didn’t mature until the elder Kallinoski was in his late 80s. Kallinoski’s father died in 2007.
The culprit was later charged with embezzlement and grand larceny, but died before he could go to trial.
John Cronin, director of securities for the Vermont Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration, said the Internet and telephone have made it much easier for criminals to prey on Vermont residents, who in the past have been insulated by geography.
The number of investment-related complaints in Vermont has doubled compared to two years ago, Cronin said.
“During economic downturns,” said Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, “we often see a rise in predatory and exploitive practices by a few bad apples, and we must always be diligent in protecting ourselves from investment fraud.
“This important information could save Vermont senior citizens thousands of dollars and help them make wise investment decisions,” the governor said.
Vermont State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, BISCHA Commissioner Paulette Thabault and Greg Marchildon, AARP state director, also participated in the forum.
In addition to the Green Mountain state, workshops are also being held in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Washington and will be expanded into five additional states next year.
For information on upcoming events, check the list of events on SaveAndInvest.org.