When it comes to investing, don’t be trusting

Ten years later, Arlington, Texas schoolteacher Sandy Goodwin is still haunted by the man she calls “the old grandfather.” She says he sweet-talked her out of $50,000. By the time she figured out that her investment in overseas equipment was a ruse, her money was long gone.

She hired a lawyer who worked out a deal for the return of the money. But that fell through. She complained three times (three!) to the Tarrant County district attorney’s office but was rejected each time. She sent the old man letters begging, “I need that money to live.” He put her off. Then his lawyer told her to leave him alone.

As readers of the Dave Lieber Watchdog column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram first learned, she first met the man at school, where she taught his granddaughter. He said all the right things.

“I’m an investment broker, and I want to help you.

“I know you’re single. You’re such a wonderful teacher. You mean so much to my granddaughter.

“I want to invest some money for you, and you can get it back anytime you want. No time limit. No strings attached.”

Bernie Madoff

A decade later, she says: “I trusted the old grandfather. He was sending his granddaughter to a private Christian school. I had no reason to doubt him. I thought he was a good Christian man trying to help me.”

He told her he owned a brokerage company. His letterhead listed his home address. If he had a brokerage, he forgot to register it with the state.

There was no literature describing the investment and no contract. Just sweet talk.

She gave him $50,000 in eight payments between 2000 and 2002. Half the time, she didn’t get a receipt, though she asked. When he did give her one, he had it notarized to make it look official.

The profit he promised on one receipt I saw was “15-18 percent interest.” Too good to be true.

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Her told her not to tell anyone else that she was investing with him, she remembers, “because he could not help everyone.”

He did give her some money — $400.

When she asked for the rest, he came up with fantastic stories: Somebody was killed trying to get the money out of South Africa. He planned to move the money to Germany in small amounts, but he couldn’t leave the country. See, the feds were on to him. He had to wear an ankle bracelet because of his troubles with the law.

None of that was true.

At the same time, his family treated her like a daughter. They bought her Christmas presents and invited her to Thanksgiving and to a wedding. “You were such a good teacher for my granddaughter, we want to keep you close,” the old man said.

Last month, I spoke to him on the phone. He told me she got more than $400 back. She was paid in cash, he said. How much? “I’d have to sit down and figure it.”

Losing everything

He lost everything, too, he said: “I’m sorry for the lady. I’m sorry for me. My wife and I went from driving Jaguars to driving old Neons. I had a home I had to unload in Arlington. Lost everything. I was living the high life. Condos in Florida and down in the Caribbean. I come away with nothing.”

The district attorney’s office didn’t take the case because “no viable, prosecutable offense has occurred,” a letter to Goodwin said. David Lobingier, head of the economic crimes unit, wrote two rejection letters to her and told me that teachers are easily victimized.

“When the economy is soft, they are afraid they will outlive their retirement savings. They invest to get more in returns. God, it just breaks your heart to think they’ve been duped that way.”

Goodwin didn’t pick up the key piece of the puzzle until 2009. That’s when she asked the Texas State Securities Board for a free background check on the grandfather. She learned that neither he nor his investment was registered with the state, as required.

By then, the statute of limitations had expired: five years for an unregistered agent such as the grandfather; three years for registered sellers.

Checking registrations

All sellers of investments must register with the state securities board. Individual investment opportunities must be registered, too.

To check, call the state securities board at 888-663-0009 and ask for a free regulatory report on an individual. It has information about a seller’s work history, legal problems, disciplinary actions, scores on license exams and customer complaints.

The teacher learned her lesson: “I would investigate him as a person. I would investigate his company. I would talk to other people and ask: ‘Do you know anything about his background? Can you fill me in?’

“I had faith in mankind. I never thought anyone would take advantage of me.”

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Dave Lieber shows Americans how to fight back against corporate deceptions in his wonderful book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong. Are you tired of losing time, money and aggravation to all the assaults on our wallets? Learn how to fight back with ease — and win. Get the book here.

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