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Following the first in the series of Fraud Squad last Friday which focused on Boiler Room Scams many people are making comments like ” Well they would not have caught me out with that scam “.

Actually the thing that might have alerted experienced stock and share investors to the scam was that firms like Anderson Munro, Milton Hayward and Westernfield Holdings gave out too much information !!

Let me explain:

In the early 2000’s I invested a lot of money in stocks and shares, particularly in high tech stocks. ( I also invested a lot of money in high tech companies directly and through I.P.O. share purchases). My reasoning was that there would  be a resurgence in the Nasdaq after the dot.com crash of 2000 to 2002. In this I was correct, see:


which is a 36 year graph of the Nasdaq ( High Tech ) stockmarket.

Anyone with a ruler can see the growth trend in the Nasdaq over the last 36 years with the main recent  deviances being the dot.com boom
( upwards ) and the 2008 recession ( downwards ). Anyone who invested in the Nasdaq itself in around 2003 has had a good ride ( with a few bumps ) over the last 8 years or so.

I had 2 main share/stockbrokers at the time one in the U.S. and one in the U.K. The U.S. one being ( wait for it ! ) Lehman Bros. and the U.K. one being Merchant Securities (  http://www.merchantsecurities.co.uk/ ). As I am sure most of you will know Lehman Bros. was a main casualty of the 2008 crash ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bankruptcy_of_Lehman_Brothers ) but I am pleased to tell you that I had sold all the shares that I bought through Lehman’s before they did !!

I also had a couple of brokers that I used to a lesser extent in the U.S. and the U.K.

Was the initial approach of Anderson Munro and the other Boiler Room Stockbrokers unusual ??

No. Merchant Securities and one of the U.S. brokers that I used contacted me in exactly the same way that Anderson Munro did. They obviously all had a list of people ( a database ) that they had obtained somewhere. They bought a list from somewhere or they stole a list from a previous broker where one of them had worked. Actually some of the approaches that I had ( especially from New York based brokers ) were more aggressive than “Victoria Mayer’s approach” ( the apparent name of the person who contacted me ).

Was their ” pitch” on the initial phone calls unusual ??

No. Not only was the pitch typical but it was actually fairly refined, well researched  and focused. Typically brokers will give you some general pitch about how they are experienced, have ” unique ” access to ” hot ” stocks and a proven track record of success ( without any details ). Anderson Munro claimed that they were operating in two ” hot ” sectors, firstly the ” Far Eastern stock market ” ( which they had specialist knowledge of as a Tokyo and Hong Kong based broker ) and secondly the ” Clean/Green Energy/Technology ” market. Within this they were promoting shares in a particular company (   http://www.byd.com/ ) that renowned investor Warren Buffett had invested in (  http://money.cnn.com/2009/04/13/technology/gunther_electric.fortune/ ).

What about checks on the Boiler Room Scammers versus checks on real brokers ?

I went to Lehman Bros. because they were a ” renowned New York broker ” . This seems somewhat laughable given the events of  2008 but at the time Lehmans were right up there with J.P. Morgan and Merrill  Lynch as ” THE ” firms to be with ( not just for general stock purchases but also for I.P.O. stocks ). I did not check with the F.S.A. ( for U.K. ) or Finra ( for U.S. ) that any of these firms were “legitimate” and “registered”. Because I had not checked for the other firms ( who I traded with for years ) I did not check for Anderson Munro either. The one thing I would always do with new brokers is to make the first trade small. ( This is one thing that saved me from massive losses with Anderson Munro because one of the main mistakes that they made with me was trying to get me to  move from BYD shares, which Victoria had spent ages convincing me to buy, to other shares which did not have the same  ” support “.  They also tried to get aggressive with me when I would not move – which led to me telling them to ” get lost “).

Were their procedures unusual ?

Yes. If anything their procedures were stricter than a ” normal ” broker in that they wanted I.D. and various forms filling in ( they did not concentrate solely on ” getting the money in ” ). Many legitimate brokers that have contacted me have moved very quickly from initial pitch to ” getting the first investment/puchase done “.

They also involved a ” back of house ” function ( in my case a guy called Max Clarke ) to get the admin. work done. ( Typically you would not even speak to back of house people for some time at proper brokers – the broker dealing with you probably preferring to keep control of a new customer ).

Would you normally see the share certificates of the firms that you bought shares in ??

No. Most brokers that I dealt with held my shares in a “nominee account “. I would get a copy of a ” Buy order ” when I bought shares ( as I did with Anderson Munro )  and this would detail the name of the company whose shares I bought e.g. BYD, the price at which I bought those shares, the number of shares and the total value of those shares.  Then you would get ” statements ” showing your holdings, share price at that date and the total value of those shares. You would also be informed of dividends that were awarded for those shares.  When you sold your shares with a normal broker you would get a ” Sell order “.

Anderson Munro and Milton Hayward actually went to considerable lengths to have ( fake ) share certificates printed and issued although I did not get any. Had I done so this might have appeared unusual to me. Less ” experienced ” investors were probably comforted to have copies of these fake certificates.

Stock certificate

So, the unusual thing about these Boiler Room Scammers is that in a couple of respects they were better than normal brokers !!!

So, How do you choose a Stockbroker ??

After getting scammed by Anderson Munro I continued to get calls from other U.S. and U.K. brokers. I advised them that it was probably not the best time to be calling me and explained why. This prompted them to explain to me how to check that brokers were legitimate using the FSA in the U.K. and Finra in the U.S.

Some people would say that you obviously would not use any broker that calls you up and says that they have a great opportunity – if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is too good to be true etc etc ( see interview with Motley Fool Director in comments below ) .

ALL stockbrokers claim to be ” the ones that have the best research and therefore are most likely to find YOU a stock that will increase in value rapidly “.

Actually most stockbrokers are pretty useless at picking stocks ( in the same way that most fund managers are pretty useless at managing funds )  and they all rely on the same information which means that lots of people actually know about the ” potential ” of that stock which means that it is already priced in which means that it will not actually rise as much as they say – probably.

So, whilst I am not saying ” go with the brokers that call you ” what I am saying is that it is actually very, very hard to find one that is going to give you really good advice.

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