By G. Kevin Mathis, Investor Advocacy Intern, Spring 2019
The rattlesnake king, Clark Stanley, created the narrative of the snake oil salesman. Stanley peddled his snake oil liniment to consumers at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. To gain credibility for his product he performed a show-stopping act for fairgoers. He snatched a rattlesnake out of a bag sliced the snake open and squeezed out what he claimed to be healing snake oil extracts. The fairgoers bit and bought Stanley’s snake oil liniment. Thankfully, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), then known as the Division of Chemistry, also purchased some of the liniment. The FDA tested the liniment and found out that it was not snake oil, but a mixture of dangerous chemicals that could potentially injure consumers.
Beyond being the story that created the tale of the snake oil salesperson, Stanley’s story is the story of someone defrauding buyers. These stories have several common elements that consumers can use to protect themselves. The aspect most prominent in Stanley’s snake oil scheme is that fraudsters tend to create a product that emulates a real product so that their claims about their product has some basis in truth. Real snake oil made from the oil of the Chinese water snake, which is rich in the omega-3 acids that help reduce inflammation, was quite useful. Stanley’s snake oil was a fake version of Chinese water snake oil that he claimed was real. He also inflated the benefits of his product compared to the real one. Understanding and identifying these commonalities can help protect consumers when the next rattlesnake king comes rolling into town.
How does knowing what Stanley’s story help investors? Investors are consumers that buy securities. Knowing stories of products with incredible claims can help investors build some healthy skepticism when it comes to the claims of financial professionals. That skepticism can cause investors to pause and question a financial professional. When their claims about a product exceed what is typical of that product or do not line up with the product that they claim it is investors should alert others. When investors communicate about bad investment products investment advisors hoping to defraud unwitting investors have little or no unsuspecting investors available to defraud.
I am discussing some other schemes and their essential elements so that consumers can build up some knowledge of what to look for when it comes to spotting bad investments. As investors learn these elements, they should remember that communicating with other investors is the most important thing investors can do to protect themselves. When it comes to bad investments is to talk about their investment experience the good, the bad, and the ugly. Continue reading
Though we will continue to post to this blog throughout the summer, the Investor Advocacy Clinic is not currently accepting any case inquiries or providing any legal advice and is not currently planning to be operational in the 2019-2020 school year. If you believe you have a problem with your financial professional, we recommend that you contact another lawyer as soon as possible because the passage of time can adversely impact a legal claim. This link provides information that may assist you in finding an attorney.
By G. Kevin Mathis, Spring 2019 IAC Student Intern
I returned to the Clinic because last semester I gained some valuable practical legal experience while helping harmed investors. I hoped to continue my efforts representing investors. I also wanted the chance to assist Clinic I students learn how to assist with investor matters. Just like last semester, my experience was not only great but it was more than I expected. Continue reading
By: Brook Ptacek, Spring 2019 IAC Student Intern
After a year, my clinic story is finally winding to an end—but what an end it has been. Over the course of my time with Georgia State’s Investor Advocacy Clinic, I have gotten to assist Georgia’s Secretary of State with investigations into fraudulent schemes and sales of unregistered securities. As a student clinician, I have been able to help potential clients with issues such as the mishandling of portfolio transfers and clarifying the terms of variable annuity contracts. But the cherry on top was when the Clinic got to speak in D.C. at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Continue reading
By Caitlyn Scofield, Investor Advocacy Clinic Spring 2019 Student Intern
I entered into the Investor Advocacy Clinic in the last semester of my last year of law school. I had waited for over a year to be apart of this clinic and had been looking forward to the experience. I was not disappointed and now I can’t believe it is coming to a close. Through my school journey I have had the opportunity to have a multitude of various experiences, but nothing has come close to what I was able to do in the Investors Advocacy Clinic. During my time at the clinic, I not only had the opportunity to work with amazing colleagues, but also work with clients, the Secretary of State’s Securities Division, and speak with representatives from the SEC and FINRA. The time I have spent in the Investor Advocacy Clinic has honestly been one of the best and most valuable experiences of my law school career.
When I came into the clinic I wasn’t sure what to expect. Of course, I had heard of other IAC interns working with clients on financial matters and with the FINRA arbitration process, but I had no idea of all the other opportunities and work I would get to be involved with. From working with clients and blogging about video games to working with the Secretary of State, the things I got to do within the clinic were diverse, unique and invaluable. Not only did I have the opportunity to advocate for investors who were wronged, but also at higher level with the Secretary of State, the SEC and FINRA. I am honestly humbled by the engaging opportunities I was presented with during my time with the clinic.
The most unique of the experiences was the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. and present to the SEC. Our time with the SEC was spent speaking to various representatives within the organization on what we saw and handled within our clinic and what we believed would be ways to improve protections for investors. Our clinic presented on the need for investor communication and empowerment focusing on the beginning of the #NoShame movement. This a social movement to end the stigma against talking about money, which we feel will empower investors to better communicate by sharing their questions and concerns with others. That, in turn, will help them to avoid fraud and better invest their money. The opportunity to have those who make policy and regulations hear what we as students and advocates had to say was exhilarating. I personally felt like we were making a real impact on the lives of those that we are seeking to help. We were also able to interact with other Investor Advocacy Clinics from around the country and hear what their experiences were. It was a wonderful experience to engage with so many people who are interested in the same cause.
My time in the clinic was invaluable and I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my last semester at Georgia State. At every turn I was wowed by the amount of investment, work and diligence of my colleagues and those we worked with. Every experience was memorable and unique. I hope to keep in touch with my clinic colleagues for many years to come.
By: Esmat Hanano, IAC 2019 Spring Intern
Welcome back to the final installment in our series on the Fyre Festival. Today, we focus on the lessons that retail investors can take from the Fyre Festival. The Fyre Festival scandal offers three important lessons for retail investors in the influencer-driven age of promotion and investment. First, retail investors need to ignore the “Keeping up with the Joneses” effect that flows from social media. Although constant access to other people’s lives on social media has been beneficial in some regards, it has also created an innate sense of competition between people that forces them to try and keep up with how others are living their lives. This is a particularly dangerous feeling to have when dealing with investment offers—an investment that is suitable for one person may be unsuitable for someone else. Continue reading
By: Esmat Hanano, IAC 2019 Spring Intern
Welcome back to the next installment in our series on the Fyre Festival. Today, we focus on the fallout from the Fyre Festival and similarities that it shares with other recent investment scandals. When the first weekend of the Festival arrived, McFarland and his team were still woefully unprepared. After making grand promises about the experience that attendees would have, they didn’t at all meet expectations. For weeks leading up to the event, attendees had been reaching out to gather more information on the structure of the Festival, travel details, and supplies they would need for their stay. Instead of answers, attendees received cryptic responses and were passed off from one employee to the other. This all culminated on the first weekend of the festival when guests began arriving at the airport. Upon landing, guests were immediately lost with no idea where to go or how to get to the event site. When guests did arrive at the site, they found absolute chaos. Eventually, flights back to Miami were chartered and the organizing team went into damage-control mode as they faced serious accusations. Continue reading