The pitches come into homes in the form of slick infomercials or glossy, four-color direct mail pieces urging people with discretionary funds to invest in "IRA approved" investments ranging from ostrich farms to wireless cable television.
No matter how fancy the packaging, a good number of these come-ons are scams, says Mark Griffin, director of the Utah Division of Securities."The truth is that you can put just about any investment into an IRA (individual retirement plan). Promoters are just using the label `IRA approved' to fool investors into believing that these investments are somehow quality- checked by the IRS," Griffin said Tuesday. "The IRS doesn't quality- check anything that goes into an IRA account."
Griffin's warning comes near the end of the tax year when the potential for investment schemes increases as investors look for positive tax positions for their IRAs and other investments.
Numerous investors in Utah have fallen victim to pitches to invest in wireless cable television, touted in some promotions as the "investment opportunity of the '90s," he said.
"What they don't tell you is, most of the good, marketable cable licenses were sold 10 years ago," Griffin said.
Investors also should be wary of promotions urging investment in exotic livestock such as ostriches and emus. The ostrich deals are sometimes packaged as partnerships in which investors pay $3,000 or more for "breeder pairs" which are raised on ranches, generally in the Southwest.
The ostriches are said to be the no-fat, low-calorie cash crop of the 1990s, with added value for their hides and feathers.
In one case in Texas, two ostrich- farm promoters took $150,000 from a woman and promised to put it into an IRA. Instead, they misappropriated $35,000 for their own purposes, according to a Securities division press release.
The division also has observed an increase in illicit investment schemes involving mortgage pools, which involve the sale of interest in pools of mortgage paper. Some deals have promised annual returns of 15 percent.
The division's surveys indicate that people make such investments because they say the term " `IRA approved' was significant to investors," Griffin said.
"The other factor was it just looked good on television."
Prospective investors should not be swayed by the first pitch, be it a telemarketer's phone call, a television infomercial or direct mail. Investors should exercise due dil-ligence by checking with the Division of Securities to determine if the salesperson and investment vehicle are in compliance with securities laws and state rules.
For more information, call 1-800-721-SAFE.