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‘I feel like a fool.’ I’m 65 and recently met a ‘gorgeous’ 70-year-old millionaire who ‘started acting as my financial adviser.’ But he ghosted me, and left me with less than $20 in my account. What’s my move now? 

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Question: After meeting a nice guy and dating a bit, he started acting as my financial advisor, which I appreciated as I am clueless about this stuff. He’s a millionaire, gorgeous and at 70, five years older than me. He set me up with a reputable investment company that he said he sits on the board of. But he managed all communication with the broker. I asked a number of times for this guy’s name and contact information but he told me I should just leave “all that stuff” to him because I didn’t have the knowledge or expertise to discuss these matters with the broker and I really shouldn’t waste the guy’s time.

I’m living on Social Security and through his guidance, invested nearly $10,000 in crypto since February. This was always the plan: to withdraw about half to start up a small business, to protect my intellectual property and get the necessary licensing and legal advice. The money was supposed to magically reappear in my bank account in September. Except it didn’t. And my guy ghosted me. Radio silence. He doesn’t have my password, or access to my checking or savings accounts. I’ve reached out to the investment company and they have no clue who he is. Nor where my money went after it was converted to crypto. I have less than $20 in their coffers. They’ve frozen my account.

This is such a tough lesson, is there any hope of retrieving my funds? I’m embarrassed and humiliated but I’m not broken. Pissed, yes. Having to start again from scratch and not knowing if this is fixable isn’t ideal, but I am forging ahead. What steps should I be taking? I’m widowed and my kids have also passed away. I definitely feel like a fool.

Answer: We are so sorry this happened to you, and please know that you are not alone in getting scammed. There are plenty of people, like your ex, who are very sophisticated at manipulating others. Some of the wealthiest and most successful people have fallen for scams — just look at everyone who invested with Bernie Madoff. That said, we don’t have the best immediate news for you (you may never get that money back) — though this is a lesson in how to thoroughly vet any professional adviser you want to hire in the future. (Looking for a financial adviser? This tool can help match you with an adviser who might meet your needs.)

Indeed, it’s probably unlikely that you’ll ever see your money again, says certified financial planner Joe Favorito at Landmark Wealth Management. You should report the swindler to the authorities, especially considering that stealing that amount of money would constitute grand larceny, says Favorito. Be prepared to give identifying information and a detailed account of what occurred and how much money you lost.

Have an issue with your financial adviser or looking for a new one? Email questions and concerns to picks@marketwatch.com.

If he was, in fact, a real financial adviser, he also was probably licensed either with a state or the SEC. “You might be able to find his name at either Brokercheck or the Investment Advisor Public Disclosure websites. If he’s listed there, you should file complaints with the appropriate authorities, and you may even consider hiring an attorney who can investigate the appropriate next steps,” says certified financial planner Andrew Bernell at Century Park Wealth Management. 

The big lesson here is: “Never give money to someone that way again. If you’re investing money, the check should always be payable to the broker-dealer or to yourself to be endorsed for deposit into your account number. At no point should you make a check out to a third party,” says Favorito.

You should also look at your credit reports and request a personal identification number from the Internal Revenue Service for tax filing, says certified financial planner Derieck Hodges at Anchorpointe Wealth Management.  “You have to guard against identity theft as you may be much more vulnerable now,” says Hodges.

What to look for in a financial adviser going forward

Going forward, if you want to have a financial advisor help you, you should be looking for one who takes their fiduciary duty seriously, and make sure to ask these 15 questions of the adviser. (Looking for a financial adviser? This tool can help match you with an adviser who might meet your needs.)

Because your assets are relatively low, you may find it beneficial to work with a fee-only hourly or project-based planner who can offer guidance on your current situation. You can even look into pro-bono planning organizations like the Financial Planning Association (FPA), GreenPath or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, all of which offer planning services to underserved individuals.

Know too what red flags to watch out for. When someone asks you for cash to invest, Favorito says that’s a red flag. And, adds Bernell: “An adviser who sits on the board of the investment company he’s putting your money into is a red flag. That’s a conflict of interest and you should ask any adviser you interview about their board seats. An adviser should be independent and any conflicts should be disclosed ahead of time.”  (Looking for a financial adviser? This tool can help match you with an adviser who might meet your needs.)

Have an issue with your financial adviser or looking for a new one? Email questions and concerns to picks@marketwatch.com.

Questions edited for brevity and clarity.

The advice, recommendations or rankings expressed in this article are those of MarketWatch Picks, and have not been reviewed or endorsed by our commercial partners.

Credit: marketwatch.com

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