The Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it is filing fraud charges against four Atlanta-area brokers in connection with allegations they scammed federal employees into rolling their Thrift Savings Plan funds into higher-fee investment products.
According to the civil complaint filed in U.S. District Court for northern Georgia, Keystone Capital Partners, Inc. targeted older federal employees with significant investments in the 401(k)-style retirement program and used a number of deceptive practices to convince them to move their money into high-fee plans with variable annuities.
Among the charges levied against the brokers are that they used the name Federal Employee Benefits Counselors, a logo that resembles a federal government seal as well as a number of practices intended to make their application forms and other documents appear to be government-issued.
“The representatives combined into one form the documents the representative needed to purchase the variable annuity with the portions of the official TSP form that was needed to transfer funds from the federal employees’ TSP accounts, and referred to the variable annuity investment using terminology from an official TSP form,” the SEC wrote. “In truth, the variable annuities that defendants offered and sold were privately issued, separate and apart from the TSP and the federal government, and had much higher costs than alternatives available through the TSP.”
The brokers, named in the suit as Christopher Laws, Jonathan Cooke, Danny Hood and Brandon Long, also allegedly omitted or gave misleading information about the fees associated with their products, particularly when comparing them to what is offered by the TSP. And in five cases, the brokers opened accounts in five investors’ names without their knowledge or consent, SEC said.
“The promotional materials that defendants gave to potential investors also touted the additional benefits of the investment option they recommended as compared to the life annuity offered through the TSP, without disclosing the significantly higher annual fees and surrender charges,” SEC wrote. “In connection with at least five of these sales, defendants Hood and Long made additional oral misrepresentations or omissions further suggesting that the investment option they recommended was affiliated with the TSP, and misrepresented or omitted to disclose the associated fees.”
Between March 2012 and November 2014, the defendants sold around 200 plans with a face value of more than $40 million to federal employees, earning the company about $1.7 million in commissions. The suit seeks to force the defendants to return the profits from these accounts with interest, as well as additional penalties.
SEC also issued a warning to TSP participants Monday about potential fraudsters pretending to be connected with or endorsed by the federal government. Scammers often resort to including words like “federal” or “government” in their company names and use eagle-related logos to imitate government agencies.
Officials suggested that investors not trust any contact information or websites provided by people claiming to have investment ideas affiliated with the TSP or other federal programs. They stressed that the TSP will never contact you to ask for sensitive information like account or Social Security numbers.
SEC encouraged people to contact its investor assistance line at 800-732-0330 to report any suspicious activity or solicitations.
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