Scam Artists Using Self-Directed IRAs to Mask Fraud
Scam artists are using self-directed individual retirement accounts (IRAs) to increase the appeal of their fraudulent schemes. State securities regulators have investigated numerous cases where a self-directed IRA was used in an attempt to lend credibility to a bogus venture. While self-directed IRAs can be a safe way to invest retirement funds, investors should be mindful of potential fraudulent schemes when considering a self-directed IRA. Custodians and trustees of self-directed IRAs may have limited duties to investors, and generally will not evaluate the quality, value or legitimacy of an investment or its promoters. Fraud promoters pushing a Ponzi scheme or other investment fraud can misrepresent the responsibilities of self-directed IRA custodians in order to deceive investors into believing that their investments are legitimate or protected against losses. While a scam artist may suggest that self-directed IRA custodians analyze and validate investments, those custodians only hold the assets in a self-directed IRA and generally do not evaluate the quality, value or legitimacy of any investment. In some cases, fraud promoters convince investors to move assets from an existing self-directed or traditional IRA into a fake self-directed IRA held by a supposed custodian created and owned by the scam artist. Fraudsters also exploit the tax-deferred characteristics of self-directed IRAs, and know that the financial penalty for early withdrawal may cause investors to be more passive or to keep funds in a fraudulent scheme longer than those who invest through other means. Self-directed IRAs also allow investors to hold alternative investments such as real estate, mortgages, tax liens, precious metals, and private placement securities. Financial and other information necessary to make a prudent investment decision may not be as readily available for these alternative investments.