The Securities and Exchange commission has rules in place which require investment brokers to be registered with them. This is for the protection of you, the consumer. It is just one way that the SEC tries to regulate the investment world and protect people from their own stupidity. (Along with that other simple rule: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.)

The SEC just launched a new program to warn you, the consumer, about doing business with unregistered brokers. Here's the deal: If someone is trying to sell you an "investment" and they're bragging about how much better it is than other investments out there, and they're unlicensed... there's a problem.

These kinds of guys are out to steal your money, and many of them aren't even selling a legitimate investment. They simply have an elaborate Ponzi Scheme going on, in which they're going to use your money to pay off investors who came into the deal before you did. You are left hoping that the scammer can convince more people to give him their money, in order for you to get paid back... and at some point the whole scheme crumbles.The SEC program is called PAUSE, for Public Alert: Unregistered Soliciting Entities. One of the easiest ways you can protect yourself is by asking to see the registration of the person selling you their "investment." If they don't have one or won't show it to you, you should run the other way. If they do have a registration, you still need to be cautious about your investment, but this is one simple tool to help weed out the scammers.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.

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