Clone broker scams are everywhere. Here’s how to spot them

Rick Steves

Spoofed or cloned sites can be found on internet searches and pop-up ads offering attractive returns and no risks. They can also be targeted through email, text, apps and social networks where they are encouraged to visit the fraudulent website.

The Alberta Securities Commission (ASC) launched a multi-media campaign to raise awareness of spoofed and cloned websites of legitimate registered investment firms.

The initiative focuses on the act of “cloning” or “spoofing”, which involves fraudsters creating a website that imitates or closely resembles a legitimate registered investment firm’s website and information, most often unbeknownst to them. The campaign features an interactive spoof website that highlights several tell-tale signs of fraud in an easy-to-navigate educational manner.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of scams using professional-looking websites that impersonate legitimate firms. We created a new tool to help investors, and all Albertans can now use our spoof website to safely explore common red flags. The site also provides key steps they can take to verify the legitimacy and registration of any investment firm found online or marketed through pop-up ads”, said Hilary McMeekin, Director, Communications and Investor Education with the ASC.

Fraudsters look to take advantage of those interested in investing, “getting in early,” looking for low or competitive rates, or not missing out on the latest trend or great “opportunity” to make money, the regulator explained.

Spoofed or cloned sites can be found on internet searches and pop-up ads offering attractive returns and no risks. They can also be targeted through email, text, apps and social networks where they are encouraged to visit the fraudulent website.

Users are then urged to invest and to deposit additional funds if it appears they have made money. Some websites will allow investors to withdraw early returns only to establish credibility.

How to make sure you’re safe

Regulators across the globe always call consumers to be alert when dealing with investment platforms of which they have no prior knowledge. In particular, investors should be suspicious of any unsolicited investment offers made online, on social media or over the phone, especially if they require payment in bitcoin or other digital assets. Remain cautious even if you may have initiated contact with the firm.

Consumers must also be mindful of the red flags of cloned/spoofed websites and duplicate websites for firms found through pop-up ads and internet searches.

Users should always check the registration of any firm they are interested in working with by visiting the local regulator website’s broker check page. In the case of Alberta, Canada, it is through www.checkfirst.ca/check-registration/. Securities law requires all investment industry professionals and firms be registered in the province you reside in.

Alberta’s regulator recommends users to only contact the number listed on the firm’s registration found in the Alberta-based registrant list on the ASC website if based in Alberta or the National Registration Search provided by the Canadian Securities Administrators.

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