State securities regulators have launched a publicity campaign designed to prevent fraud and encourage safe investing among Utahns.
The first phase of the campaign includes television and radio announcements and a brochure explaining how to steer clear of bad investments."No one is immune to investment fraud. Unfortunately your doctor, your neighbor down the street or even you could become part of this year's fraud statistics," said Gov. Norm Bangerter during a press conference last week to announce the Utah Division of Securities' Investor Education Program.
"Our goal is to educate all Utahns about investment fraud and give them information on how to become wise investors so they are not the next victims of a con artist."
Carrying the theme "Don't Get Soaked," the broadcast spots and brochure give examples of fraud schemes and advise investors to be skeptical, ask questions and take time to research the offer before making a decision. The television commercials feature actress Betty White.
Alerting the public about fraud is one objective of the program, while the second phase coming later this year involves seminars about how to make sound investments in the Utah market.
"There are good investment opportunities in Utah; consumers just need to be informed about how to spot them," said David Buhler, executive director of the state Department of Commerce.
The entire campaign is funded through administrative fines assessed against violators of state securities laws. About $55,000 has been earmarked for the program.
"It's poetic justice that the people who violate the law will be paying for everyone else to become educated about how to avoid them," Buhler said.
State securities regulation has become stiffer in past years since Utah earned the dubious title in the national press as "fraud capitol of the world" in the early 1980s. Laws have been strengthened to prevent fraudulent offerings and the number of state investigators and prosecutors has increased, said securities division director Earl Maeser.
The education program is another step in improving Utah's reputation in the securities industry, Maeser said. "We will give investors stronger confidence in the securities industry in Utah, and this will help strengthen the state's economy."
Asked if tougher regulation has scared legal, albeit high-risk, investment opportunities away from the state, Bangerter said he didn't think so.
"There will be no loss to anyone who has a legitimate business opportunity," he said.