Financial wellness conference spotlights fraud, investment schemes

By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff
Posted Oct. 15, 2011, at 12:26 p.m.

Carolyn and Ray Thompson of Brewer were among the featured speakers Maine Consumer University’s financial wellness seminar at the Spectacular Event Center in Bangor Saturday, October 15, 2011  photo John Clarke Russ| BDN

BANGOR, Maine — A Brewer couple who invested thousands in a windmill scheme told their story to others at a financial wellness conference on Saturday in hopes people would learn from their mistakes.

“At first we didn’t realize we were getting scammed,” Carolyn Thompson said, sitting beside her husband, Ray, at the beginning of the half-day “Consumer University: Exercising Financial Wellness” conference held at the Spectacular Events Center.

The couple was approached by friends who told them about a unique sail-type windmill that could be installed on houses or in backyards that could provide a home’s energy, and any extra power generated could be sold to operators of the local electricity grid, the couple said, describing the scam they fell into.

“What got us excited about these windmills is they were different,” Ray Thompson said. “They were designed like a sail on a boat.”

The couple invested $10,000 three times and also got their friends to invest.

“That’s what we feel bad about,” Carolyn Thompson said. “We were very, very excited about it.”

While the Brewer couple and others will never see their money again, the man who scammed them was convicted in June of mail fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Maine’s Office of Securities partnered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, AARP of Maine, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, other consumer protection and law enforcement agencies to present the free conference designed to provide resources on protecting assets and guarding against financial exploitation.

“We are all consumer protection agencies,” Christine Kieffer, FINRA senior director, said.

The consumer university conference focused on reverse mortgages, investment products, how to outsmart investment fraud and avoiding mail and identity theft.

“People are desperate because of the economy,” Judy Shaw, Maine Office of Securities administrator, said. “They’ve lost their investment money … they don’t trust the stock market anymore so it’s ripe for scams.”

Education is key to helping potential investors protect their funds, because once it’s gone, it usually is recovered, she said.

The Thompsons have decided to take what they learned by being scammed and educate others in hopes they can avoid what the Brewer couple went through. There are two things people should do when dealing with possible investments, they said.

“Educate yourself and do a strong background check,” Ray Thompson said.

“If I had Googled this man I would have got a lot of information,” Carolyn Thompson said.

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