How seniors can get fraud tips from the head of the SEC's Philly office

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s Philadelphia regional office will host an educational event for older investors at West Chester University on June 12.

Topics will include how to vet various investment products, how changes in cognition and memory affect decision-making, the importance of a new “trusted contact” rule on your investment accounts, and some red flags of investment fraud and how seniors can protect themselves.

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G. Jeffrey Boujoukos, director of the SEC Philadelphia regional office.

“This event is an opportunity for senior investors in the area to learn more about current investment trends and products, as well the latest scams that target seniors,” said G. Jeffrey Boujoukos, director of the SEC Philadelphia regional office.

As head of the SEC Philly office, Boujoukos oversees local investigative priorities and what the regulator looks for in examinations of mid-Atlantic registered investment advisers. RIAs are regulated by the SEC; brokers and other Wall Street sales representatives are regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a division that has long existed on Wall Street to the confusion of many investors. (And yes, that’s deliberate.)

Philadelphia’s SEC office will hew closely to the priorities coming out of Washington under SEC Chairman Walter “Jay” Clayton. For professional investors, SEC exams will likely take cues from a document entitled “2018 OCIE Exam Priorities,” available at the agency website: https://www.sec.gov/about/offices/ocie/national-examination-program-priorities-2018.pdf.

For retail investors, however, the SEC says it wants to hear about suspected fraud from as many people as it can. For instance, crypto currencies and the related public offerings of ICOs, or initial coin offerings, are on the agency’s radar.

The SEC regional office hasn’t brought any cases locally involving ICOs yet, but “there have been a number of cases brought by the commission. There are companies touting themselves as having expertise with ICOs, crypto currencies, and blockchain. We see blockchain advertised on TV now. That’s a focus of ours,” Boujoukos said.

One recent Philadelphia office-led lawsuit stemmed from a complaint by an investor in the suburbs who walked into a local police station to file a complaint against Paul W. Smith, a local money manager.

“He was allegedly investing, but it was actually a Ponzi-like scheme” using client money, Boujoukos said.

In May, Smith was sentenced to 63 months in prison and ordered to pay $886,214.37 in restitution. According to the SEC’s complaint filed in December 2017, Smith raised $2.35 million from 30 investors promising that he would invest their money in publicly traded securities through an outfit called the Haverford Group.

But Smith largely used investors’ money to repay earlier clients and for his own personal use. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania filed criminal charges against Smith that arose from the SEC’s complaint.

“It’s difficult to find these cases without someone coming forward,” Boujoukos said. “We won’t know about it unless you complain.”

Main Street investors can contact the SEC at 1-800-SEC-0330 or file a complaint about their adviser online at the website www.sec.gov/tcr. It’s also best to contact a local law enforcement office and ask for help.

For complaints about brokers, call FINRA’s BrokerCheck toll-free hotline at 800-289-9999.

Boujoukos graduated from Temple Law School and worked at Morgan Lewis in Philadelphia for 17 years, where he was promoted to partner. He joined the SEC in 2009 and became associate regional director of enforcement. His replacement in that position is now Kelly Gibson, and overall the office here employs roughly 150 people.

Boujoukos will open the senior education event with some remarks, and representatives from FINRA, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities, Temple University Institute on Protective Services, and Chester County District Attorney’s Office. Folks from AARP and the SEC staff will also present.

This senior outreach event is free and open to the public, and lunch will be provided. Registration by phone or by email is required. The event takes place from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at West Chester University’s Sykes Student Union, 110 W. Rosedale Ave., West Chester.

For full event details, visit the Philadelphia Regional Office’s webpage. More information about the event is available at: https://www.sec.gov/senior-educational-event.

Register by emailing SECSeniorOutreach@sec.gov or calling and leaving a voicemail message at 215-597-0200 with your name and phone number.

Blockchain at Penn

Ripple Labs Inc., which sends virtual payments around the world, is launching a University Blockchain Research Initiative, a program to support academic research in blockchain, crypto currency, and digital payments. Through the program, Ripple will donate $50 million to 17 universities including the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University. Penn professor Kevin Werbach will be teaching blockchain classes and curriculum starting next fall that are open to Wharton undergrads, M.B.A.s, and Penn Engineering students, funded in part by the Ripple grant. Ripple created one of the leading crypto currencies, called XRP. Its donation will be made in U.S. dollars.