..as reported in The National Law Journal

Elderly say brokers took advantage of their trust

By Tresa Baldas
October 27

Seniors are increasingly filing complaints against their brokers for conning them into bad investments, say securities fraud attorneys, noting bad times reveal the truth of shoddy deals. The latest alleged victims are the Carmels of Florida — an 82-year-old husband and 75-year-old wife who claim their Bank of America broker cozied up to them, gained their trust and then stuck them with a bad investment that cost them $1.425 million.

Their claim, filed Oct. 26 with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the agency that handles broker complaints, says the broker visited their house as often as four times a week, made home repairs and played chess with them. Then the broker convinced them to buy high-risk investments — without full disclosure — in companies that had little or no previous operating history.

The couple claims that the broker took advantage of their trust and their age.

Sounds all too familiar to Ron Thrash, a partner in the Houston securities arbitration firm of Shepherd Smith Edwards & Kantas. “This is not an isolated instance. This is all too common,” Thrash said, noting that his office has seen a rise in calls from seniors questioning investments, particularly in the wake of the Bernie Madoff scandal. “The elderly are being poorly served.”

The Florida complaint came just weeks after FINRA on Oct. 8 barred former New York broker Sergio Del Toro from the industry for allegedly defrauding a 90-year-old investor of more than a half-million dollars. Del Toro has agreed to the bar but is neither admitting nor denying wrongdoing, according to FINRA.

In the latest Florida case, the Carmels are also seeking to hold liable the broker’s employer – Banc of America Investment Services – a subsidiary of Bank of America. Their complaint alleges that Banc of America Investment Services should have detected and prevented the broker’s recommendations to invest in unregistered securities that were illiquid, had no recognizable market value and overexposed the seniors to risk.

“What offended me is I don’t like to see elderly, vulnerable people allegedly being taken advantage of,” said the couples’ lawyer, Mark Tepper of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based securities boutique firm Mark A. Tepper. He said his firm has seen a significant increase in calls from elderly investors in the last year.

According to a 2009 report issued by MetLife Mature Market Institute, elder financial abuse costs older Americans more than $2.6 billion per year. While most of the abuse is committed by family members, financial losses are higher with investment fraud scams, often perpetrated by outsiders.