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Con artists out in force during downward stock market trends

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's investment watchdogs smell trouble.

Keith Woodwell, Director of the Utah Division of Securities, says the recent downward trend on major stock markets is leading to fearful investors, and con artists always come out when investors are the most nervous.

"The con artists out there prey upon that fear and use it against us," Woodwell said.

Randy Fisher learned a hard lesson when the economy was still sputtering after the great recession.

"I just want people to understand that it can happen to anyone at any time," Fisher said.

In 2011, Fisher's insurance agent convinced him to invest $160,000.00 in retirement savings in a company called Horizon Auto Funding.

Soon after, he got a phone call.

"I got a call from the Division of Securities saying, did I realize that Dee Randall, who owned Horizon Auto Funding, had filed for bankruptcy," Fisher said.

Fisher still believes he invested in a real company with good intentions and bad management.

"It's not just unscrupulous people out there trying to scam you," Fisher said.

But the state, in court filings, stated Horizon Auto Funding was a Ponzi scheme. They alleged the owners were selling notes that never had a market value and were paying old investors with new investors' money.

Keith Woodwell outlined a few ways to check an investment, including checking the professional license of the seller, seeing if they have filed for bankruptcy, or if they have a criminal record. He also suggests looking at a company's track record, whether it's been around for a while and if it has a good reputation.

Some of that research gets technical, and Woodwell says his Division is there to help.

You can call them at (801) 530-6600. They also have a user-friendly website.

Woodwell also says there is a clear rule to investing: If anyone promises strong returns with little risk, they're lying.

"You don't have to understand how they're lying," he said. "You don't have to understand how the con works. But if you hear great returns with little or no risk attached, it's just not true."

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