Keeping your money safe while investing

Investing can be part of a healthy financial future, enabling you to grow your money for retirement and financial goals like vacations or your child’s education costs. Making sure any investment opportunity fits in your financial plan or goals is important.  So is protecting yourself from market manipulation or investment fraud.

In a recent study by the Alberta Securities Commission (ASC), 1 in 4 Albertans believed they were approached with a possible fraudulent investment. As COVID-19 continues to affect our lives, associated scams have emerged as fraudsters try to exploit the crisis to profit from Albertan’s fears and misinformation. While the look of a scam may vary, fraudsters follow a series of steps that are easy to identify if you know what to look for. To understand those seven steps, the ASC created a new resource entitled “Don’t be fooled by fraud”.  It outlines the steps fraudster’s take, in addition to providing information on how to avoid a scam and protect yourself.

Step One:  Identifying a potential victim

A fraudster’s first step is to identify targets. They leverage current events like a pandemic or economic downturn and source vulnerable investors with common anxieties or fears about their money.

Step Two: Befriend and earn trust

Once fraudsters have found suitable targets, they move quickly to cultivate friendships and gain trust. They often do this through community groups, organizations, online groups and through your friends or family to establish themselves as a reliable resource and authority.

Step Three: Showcase the benefits of investing

As the targets become trusting, the fraudster will flaunt their wealth and success to establish credibility. They will casually mention the investment opportunity that brought them this wealth, telling them that it came at little to no risk.

Step Four: Offer the investment

With the potential target’s trust in place and the perceived credibility of his investor savviness solidified, fraudsters move fast to offer the “investment opportunity”. To ensure targets quickly buy-in and do little or no research, they will sell it as an exclusive or time-sensitive offer, private deal and promise high returns with little to no risk.

Step Five: Receiving money for the investment

Leading up to receiving money, fraudsters will inundate targets frequently with communication, provide confusing and complex paperwork to establish legitimacy, and highlight the urgency of buying-in as soon as possible.

Step Six: Disappear (the Ghosting Act)

Once the target “invests”, fraudsters reassure the victim of the investment opportunity and even request more funds for a bigger payout. Following this, they will delay access to funds and eventually disappear and ignore the target when the scam can no longer be hidden.

Step Seven: Target the victim again ( the Recovery Act)

Fraudsters are hardly finished once a scam is complete. They will often sell the victim’s information to another fraudster or criminal organization, which will contact the victim acting as a credible agency that can reclaim their investment for a fee. This is ultimately another scam in which the victim is robbed again in their attempts to get their money back.

Understanding these seven steps is important so that you can recognize unsafe situations you or someone you know could be in. To learn more, read the fraudsters playbook entitled “Don’t be fooled by fraud”, accessible for free at www.checkfirst.ca/playbook. While visiting checkfirst, check out the other information and resources designed to help you increase your investing knowledge and keep your money safe when considering any investment.

Back to School – Not Just for Kids

The air is crisp and the leaves are changing colour. While some things have stayed the same – the end of summer and the start of school – others have drastically changed. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly impacted us in ways we could never have imagined.

Many of us are juggling the needs of work and our family, others may have spent a bit more than anticipated over the summer, or are having to pull the belt tighter due to changes in employment. Most of us have had to make choices that affect the amount of money we have brought into our household. Whatever your situation, the good news is that fall is a great time for you to “go back to school” by reviewing your financial situation and increasing your financial knowledge, which can help you stay on track for the rest of the year. Here are some tips to get you started:

Review your budget.

Over the summer, budgets tend to slide. The fall is a good time to review the budget you set earlier in the year to make sure you are still on track to achieve your personal goals. Look back at receipts and financial statements to see your family’s spending pattern, then account for any new or anticipated expenses. Ask yourself the following questions: Are you saving what you had set out to? Are you able to pay down debt? What is your cash flow situation?

While you’re at it, take some time to outline how you will manage your finances for the rest of the year. With the holidays around the corner, factor this into your budget and consider emergency funds for any big-ticket items that could pop up, such as car or home repairs. By knowing where your money is going, and living within your means, you take control of your spending and reduce your stress.

Review your financial statements.

It’s easy to allow financial documents like bank or investment statements to pile up unopened. Take the time to open all your financial documents and review your statements. Be sure you understand the investment fees you’re paying, and how your portfolio is performing. Be sure to note any questions you have for your financial planner or investment adviser. Follow up if there are any changes to your accounts or new investments that you do not recall making.

Study up to increase your financial knowledge.

Start by identifying where you may have gaps: there are many places online, such as CheckFirst.ca, that offer quizzes to help you gauge your knowledge. Start with the Investing Basics quiz – it is a good general overview of investment fees, financial planning, risk tolerance and the legitimacy of investment offers. Commit to improving your financial knowledge in the areas you find challenging. While money-management and investments can feel confusing, there are many reputable resources available to help you.

Talk to a financial adviser.

If it all seems overwhelming and you’re not sure how to manage your finances, a professional may be able to help and identify areas for improvement. If you have a financial planner or investment adviser, reach out to them for a check-in to discuss your questions or concerns. If you don’t have an adviser and want one, consider meeting with a few individuals to see who might be a good fit for you. If you can’t afford to hire one right now, speak to your current banking institution. Banks have obligations to their consumers and should be willing to talk to you about your situation. Before meeting with them be sure to check their registration and learn how the adviser or bank are getting paid.

Set Goals.

Just like in school, setting achievable goals will help you conquer that next milestone. Pay off debt? Save more money? Put away for emergency fund? These are great goals but in order to be successful in meeting them, goals need to be specific, realistic and measurable. Instead try “Pay off $3,000 of debt by the end of 2021” and map out how you will do it.

Be flexible.

School today is very different than last year, and you can think about your finances in the same way. Situations change, and as they do, adjust your financial plans, budget and goals accordingly.

A bell isn’t going to ring to let you know you need to learn more about your financial future; it’s up to you to decide when to head back to school and build your own financial know-how. We might not know what the year will bring, but being proactive about our financial knowledge and planning for the future may alleviate some stress. It may just help you sleep better at night and give you one less thing to think about as you tackle all the other demands in your life.

For more information on increasing your financial knowledge, making wise investments, learning about budgeting, how to check registration and how to talk to a financial adviser visit CheckFirst.ca. It is chock-full of helpful tools and resources.

What to consider before day trading

The number of novice investors day trading has surged during the coronavirus pandemic. People stuck at home have turned to playing the stock market on trading platforms with the hopes of big returns on their investments. While it has made some savvy investors rich, day trading has left many others with massive losses and in worse financial shape than before.

Day trading is risky and different from traditional investing. Day trading involves rapid buying and selling of securities to take advantage of small movements in prices. As a day trader, hedging your bets across a variety of day trades comes with inevitable losses on some trades and gains in others, with the goal of ending the day in the green. Day trading isn’t for everyone, and it takes a particular type of person to ride day trading’s rollercoaster of volatility day-in and day-out. Most individuals do not have the wealth, the time, risk tolerance or the temperament to make money and to sustain the devastating losses that day trading can bring.

If you are considering day trading, make sure you understand its dangers:

Huge risk – losing money is part of day trading.

Don’t enter into day trading if you don’t have the money to lose and you don’t have the flexibility to sustain losses daily across multiple trades.

Quick wins don’t guarantee future success.

Be careful of unfounded confidence and emotional decisions – each trade is unique and a huge win one day could be a loss the next.

Be prepared to treat it as a full-time job.

Day trading is time-consuming – to be successful, you need to have the self-discipline to view it as a full-time job and conduct ongoing investment research and monitoring.

Watch out for claims of easy profits, hot tips or expert advice

Relying on investment advice from day trading firms or platforms, websites, social media like TikTok or charismatic day traders can be dangerous as they may be seeking to gain profit from their recommendations. Don’t believe any claims without checking sources thoroughly.

Remember that seminars, classes and books about day trading may not be objective.

Find out whether anyone offering advice about day trading stands to profit if you start day trading.

Beware of easy training sales pitches.

Day trading training systems are heavily marketed to make it seem like an easy, safe, fun way to make money. These commercials leave out details about the pressure, the importance of researching and testing, and the high levels of risk.

 

If you recognize this and are still determined to try your hand at day trading, make sure you do the following:

Understand the risks and then choose whether this type of investing is right for you.

Know yourself as an investor, your risk tolerance and your financial goals before you decide to day trade. Take our Check your risk tolerance quiz to see if day trading aligns to your investing style. > Go to quiz

Learn all you can about investing and day trading.

In order to increase your chances of success, you need expertise, so read and research all you can on it. Day trading is not ideal for those new to the investing world.

Assess if you have the right personality and discipline 

You need long-term dedication, a focused mindset and the ability to ride the stressful highs and lows of the day trading roller coaster.

Only invest what you can afford to lose.

Day traders typically suffer severe financial losses in their first months of trading, and many never attain profits. Set aside a set amount and don’t get caught up in the hype or panic to invest more as a way to make up losses. Think of it like gambling in Las Vegas – it’s never a good idea to double down at a table when losing. Get up and walk away.

Research a good trading system, and keep at it.

Day trading requires a lot of self-discipline and trust in your trading system and algorithms. It is more complicated than just following a hunch. If you don’t have a system and manage risk, you are more likely to lose money.

Day trading requires expertise. If you do decide to pursue it, do your homework, and develop a financial plan to ensure it’s the right approach for you. Remember, all day trading firms must be registered, visit CheckFirst.ca to check the registration of any firm or call 1-877-355-4488.

5 Steps to Manage Financial Stress

We are living in challenging times and every day Albertans face the unprecedented combination of economic uncertainty, ongoing COVID-19 dangers, volatile stock markets, a shaky job market and rising costs of living expenses. In a recent national poll by FP Canada[1], more than forty percent of people in Alberta ranked money as their biggest cause of stress in life and more than half said the pandemic had impacted their finances.

Financial stress can impact your health and relationships, while negatively affecting how you approach money and planning for your future. The good news is that you can take control and do what’s right for you. By taking these five steps you can reduce your stress level, optimize your expenses to weather the storm and avoid unwise investments.

1. Start with your budget

When it comes to your finances, there is no better ally than your budget in order to understand where your money goes and give you a plan of action that can relieve stress. If you don’t have a current budget or know how to make one, visit CheckFirst.ca  to build your own. Compare the money you bring in to the house, and your expenses. Consider looking for areas where you can reduce unnecessary costs and make a few changes if you’re spending more than you make. For example, maybe you can take that step you always talked about and cut your cable or stop using food delivery services and cook at home instead. Once you have built your budget, make sure you review it at the end of each month to stay on track. Take note though, a budget isn’t a dream scenario – use real numbers and take action based on what you learn.

2. Establish or strengthen your emergency fund

Unforeseen events happen. Whether your hot water tank goes on the fritz or you unexpectedly lose your job, unwanted expenses can strike when you least expect them. Saving and protecting emergency funds are a great way to hedge your bets against these unforeseen circumstances and avoid the financial impact and stress that can occur. A solid budget includes dedicating some of your income to an emergency fund. Open a separate savings account, ideally one with a decent interest rate and low or no fees, and start automatically contributing what you can. Even $40 every two weeks can net you $1,000 in savings within a year – the key is to consistently save the amount you are comfortable saving, no matter how small.

3. Defer payments

You are not alone in feeling the financial stress of COVID-19. Many Albertans are facing unprecedented challenges, which has made meeting financial obligations like paying mortgages, utilities, and other monthly expenses more difficult. Fortunately, many businesses, banks, service providers and municipalities recognize this and are providing payment deferrals for up to six months to help ease your financial stress. If you’ve reviewed your budget and removed all unnecessary spending, your next step is to identify bills that may qualify for a deferral. Try and pinpoint the smallest bills you can defer that will help you balance your budget.  Just remember that deferred payments still have to be paid – they do not cancel or eliminate the amount owed, but instead put them on hold to give you time to either grow your income, or further reduce your expenses.

4. Consider using an investment adviser or planner

Sometimes calling in an expert is a necessary step to help reduce the stress you might be feeling about your financial future. If you have investments, you are not alone in worrying about the volatility of the stock markets and the rapid changes in your portfolio. Making an appointment with a registered financial adviser or planner and seeking their knowledge and guidance can be a great way to review your investment portfolio against your financial plan, ensure you’re staying on track with your goals, and make any adjustments as needed. Learn how to ask the right questions and check the registration of your investment adviser by searching “Choosing the right financial adviser” on CheckFirst.ca.

5. Beware of “get rich quick” opportunities

Current economic conditions create a breeding ground for fraudsters looking to capitalize on the fear and vulnerability of hard-working people trying to make ends meet. Fraudsters use economic uncertainties and current trends to sell COVID-related investments, forex trading work-from-home opportunities, and too-good-to-be-true offers with the sole purpose of stealing your money quickly and efficiently. If you’re approached with a red flag of fraud such as an investment opportunity with the promise of significant returns with little to no risk, you could be dealing with a potentially fraudulent investment that could make your financial situation worse. Don’t make rash decisions with your money. Learn more about the red flags to be wary of, and always check the registration and disciplinary history of the individual or firm offering you any investment at CheckFirst.ca

Financial stress is an overwhelming reality for many households across Alberta. Take control of your financial security and relieve stress by taking action through these five steps. Visit CheckFirst.ca for free, unbiased resources to empower you through every step of your investment journey, detours and all.

[1] Seto, Steve, Financial stress biggest concern for Albertans during pandemic: survey, 660 News, Jul. 13 2020.

STOP! Steps to take before saying yes to an investment

When it comes to new investment opportunities, it’s hard not to be excited about the potential of significant returns on your money. While it’s ok to be excited, researching the investment and the individual or firm offering it is crucial to avoiding painful and avoidable losses.

In a recent Investor study commissioned by the Alberta Securities Commission, it was noted that many Albertans spend more time researching cars and vacations than researching investments. Only 47% of Albertans did two or more hours of research on their last investment versus 69% with two+ hours of research on their last vacation, and 79% the last time they bought a car. Considering your hard-earned money is at stake, spending more time investigating your investment opportunities is worth its weight in gold.

You can make wise investment decisions and, more importantly, protect yourself from fraud by following these easy steps:

1) Check if your financial adviser or firm is registered

Verifying that the registration of the individual or firm offering it to you is legitimate is an essential first step when considering any investment opportunity. By law, most security industry professionals and firms are required to register with the securities regulator in each province or territory they do business in. Registration helps protect investors like you from investment fraud as it signifies that the person or firm is recognized as being properly qualified and compliant with investor protection laws.

But remember, while registration can tell you if an individual or firm can offer and sell investments, they cannot guarantee their performance or success with your money.

2) Review the investment against your financial plan

When buying a vehicle, there are many different factors to consider from the number of passengers it can hold to the cost of maintenance and safety. Investments are no different and no one investment is suitable for everyone.

Create or review your financial plan that maps out what you’re looking to achieve with your investments. Saving for retirement? Investing for a down payment on a home? Along with your risk tolerance and willingness (the amount of money you are able and comfortable potentially losing ), your future goals and their associated timelines are all relevant details to consider before saying yes to any investment opportunity.

3) Understand what you’re investing in

Diversifying your investment portfolio across different industries is a great strategy to try and minimize any potential losses. When it comes to choosing investments, it is also critical to conduct research to understand the market, company, business and investment opportunity, and ensure it is credible. This is especially important in the fast-moving and volatile technology industry and emerging industries like cannabis and cryptocurrencies.

Conducting research also helps protect yourself from fraud. Scam artists often rely on investing trends to grab your interest and try to dissuade you from doing research that will quickly show the scam for what it is.

4) Know where to go for help

When it comes to investments, it is beneficial to walk through it with someone who is not involved. Lawyers and advisers can help you review the opportunity and identify details you may have missed, including unsatisfactory fees and even potential fraud.

A clear red flag of fraud is if you’re told to keep an investment opportunity secret. Scam artists use this tactic with the hopes that no one will call out anything suspicious. No credible adviser or firm should ever encourage this; if this situation happens to you, contact the Alberta Securities Commission and discuss it with a specialist.

Don’t let expectations of a great return gloss over the risks of any investment. Just as you take the time to thoroughly review a new car to ensure it’s not a lemon or plan the activities you want to do on your upcoming vacation, investments need the backing of proper research and planning to avoid potential negative results. With these four steps, you can make safe, suitable and informed investment decisions for your future.

 

 

Choosing the right financial adviser

Just as picking the right opportunity for your money is important, choosing a financial adviser that’s registered and matches your needs is critical when it comes to wise investing. A good financial adviser may help you manage your wealth and build a sustainable future based on YOUR risk tolerance, goals, experience and stage in life. As a key member in your investment journey, here are four questions to ask when looking for the right financial adviser that matches your needs.

1) Are you registered?

The first step any investor should take when looking for a financial adviser is to ensure they are legally allowed to be trading or advising in securities or managing investment funds. By law, individuals who are trading and advising in securities, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and ETFs, must be registered with the provincial or territorial securities regulator of the province in which they are doing business. Registration may help protect investors from investment fraud because securities regulators will only register firms and individuals that are properly qualified. Albertans can easily determine whether their financial adviser is registered by visiting checkfirst.ca and checking the registration of any individual or firm that is in the business of trading or advising in securities or managing investment funds, as well as if they have a record of any disciplinary actions.

2) How are you paid?

There are a variety of ways financial advisers are compensated, including salary, commission, flat fees, or a combination of these methods. When a financial adviser is paid by salary, the cost of their advice is included in the prices of the products you buy, whereas others may charge an hourly rate or a percentage of the assets in your account. As an investor, you have the right to obtain disclosure on how your financial adviser is compensated, as well as any costs paid to the registered firm associated with your account. This information may allow you to properly assess if a financial adviser meets your investing budget and help you avoid unwanted fees or charges.

3) What kinds of products and services do you offer?

Not all financial advisers offer the same products and services or have the same levels of expertise. While some can offer a wide range of options, others may specialize in only certain kinds of investments and only deal with clients who have certain levels of risk tolerance. If you are new to investing, working with a financial adviser that offers fewer products and provides more guidance may be more helpful. If you are a more experienced investor, you might want an adviser that offers more products and allows you to customize your portfolio.

4) How will you help me reach my goals?

Your goals from investing are unique to you alone, and no one investment portfolio will work for everyone. Before working with you, financial advisers should understand whether your investments are for financial security, income, long-term growth or something specific, such as retirement. Additionally, financial advisers will ask you about your financial situation (including your stage of life and any big expenses you might have coming up, such as a house purchase or paying for a child’s university tuition), investment knowledge, and risk tolerance. It’s important to be honest with your financial adviser so they can make recommendations that are appropriate for your needs. And remember to ask questions about anything you are not comfortable with or are unsure about.

Overall, take your time when choosing your financial adviser because this decision may be just as important as the investments themselves. Remember: financial advisers are working for YOU. By conducting the proper research and asking the right questions, you can ensure that you are working with a financial adviser with the expertise, products, services and fees that best align to your needs in order to meet your financial goals.