How to File a Complaint Against Your Financial Advisor

When you hire a financial advisor, you expect the advisor to act in your best interest to prevent unnecessary losses. Unfortunately, however, financial advisors do not always live up to these expectations. In some cases, a financial advisor fails to follow an investor’s requests and guidelines or otherwise engages in misconduct, causing the investor to suffer losses. When this happens, the investor may be able to file an official complaint against the financial advisor through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). In this article you will learn how to file a complaint against a financial advisor to recover your losses.

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FINRA Rule 3210 Overview

FINRA Rule 3210 is a newer FINRA rule, approved by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the Spring of 2016. The regulators’ goal in approving this rule was to prevent conflicts of interest by financial advisors and broker dealers. To carry out this goal, the rule governs the ability of registered financial advisors to use investment accounts outside of the accounts offered by their FINRA member firm.  Rule 3210 requires financial advisors to make a request and obtain consent from the FINRA member firm they work for to keep their accounts somewhere else. It also requires a disclosure letter to the outside firm when a securities industry professional opens an account. This disclosure action is sometimes referred to as a FINRA 3210 Letter. Making this disclosure is one important step in preventing conflicts of interest for either firm.  At the Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A., we are committed to helping you enhance your investor education and understand all the FINRA registered broker dealer rules that may impact your decision-making. What is FINRA Rule 3210? FINRA adopted Rule 3210 in 2016, which required all employees to notify their employers if they intend to open or maintain an investment account at a competing financial firm. Rule 3210 governs accounts opened by members at firms other than where they work. Need Legal Help? Let’s talk. or, give us a ring at 561-338-0037. IMPORTANT: Understanding rules like FINRA Rule 3210 can help you become a well-informed investor. It may also help you know what to look for when selecting a brokerage firm or a registered financial professional. FINRA Rule 3210 Broker Dealer Overview When an individual works for a brokerage firm, they typically keep their assets at that firm. The firm is therefore able to monitor their trades and can ensure that the financial advisor is not frontrunning their clients in a personal brokerage account. The firm can also monitor the financial advisor’s account for insider trading or other bad activity. But what happens when the financial advisor works for Bank A but wishes to keep their accounts at Bank B? Rule 3210 specifies that the financial advisor must receive written permission from Bank A to open the account at Bank B. Not only may the financial advisor not open the account without permission, but they must also declare any account in which they have a “beneficial interest.” This means that if their spouse has a brokerage account at Bank B, they must disclose that to their employer as well.  These FINRA registered broker dealer rules may seem challenging at first. However, they have been carefully implemented to protect investors from financial advisor conflicts of interest. Your Financial Advisor’s Requirements Under Rule 3210 Rule 3210 is not merely about allowing your financial advisor’s employer to see what is in their account. It is primarily about preventing conflicts of interest. In doing so, the rule requires: Obtaining prior written consent for opening accounts outside of the employer firm; Giving written notification of the financial advisor’s employment at his or her brokerage firm to the brokerage firm opening the new account; and Submitting written copies of brokerage statements or transaction data to the employer firm upon request. An important part of this rule is the written consent part. Everything must be in writing under Rule 3210. Indeed, keeping written records is a requirement under most FINRA registered broker dealer rules. Maintaining a record of requests and consents is important in this case because Rule 3210 pertains to conflicts of interest. FINRA does not have a set form for requests and consents under Rule 3210. Each firm creates their own FINRA Rule 3210 letters. Even more important than consent may be the fact that a financial advisor must submit duplicate brokerage statements to their employer. A financial professional may have their brokerage accounts at an outside firm. However, their employer must have transparency into their account activity just as if the accounts were in the employer’s custody. Rule 3210 is essential in balancing the right of financial professionals to use whichever brokers they choose with an employer’s need for compliance and a client’s need for transparency.  Close Family Members Must Also Comply with FINRA 3210 It may seem hard to believe that a FINRA broker dealer rule might apply to someone who doesn’t work in the financial services industry. But it’s true—FINRA 3210 requires disclosure of accounts from the following people related to a registered financial industry professional: A spouse; A financially dependent child of the registered financial industry professional or a child of the registered financial industry professional’s spouse;  A relative over whose accounts the registered financial industry professional has control; and Any other person over whose accounts the registered financial industry professional exercises control and who they materially financially support.  In the event that both spouses work at FINRA member firms, then each spouse would have to comply with this rule. Both member firms would be notified about the other spouse’s accounts. Protecting Against Conflicts of Interest A primary goal of FINRA Rule 3210 is to prevent FINRA member conflicts of interest. Your financial advisor and your brokerage firm should be working for you, in your best interest. Where an undisclosed conflict is lurking, your broker simply cannot provide you with the advice or level of service you should expect.  An important part of investor education about FINRA broker dealer rules is to allow you to understand the issues behind rules like FINRA 3210. Being well-informed about what these rules are and how they work helps make you a savvy investor. You will be better equipped to ask questions about potential conflicts of interest. You will also know to ask about your brokerage firm’s compliance systems and record retention.  Concerned That a Conflict of Interest Has Led to Investment Loss? If you are concerned that a conflict of interest caused you investment loss, we are here to fight for your rights. When you engage an investment advisor or a brokerage firm,...

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FINRA Rule 2165: Financial Exploitation of Specified Adults

Are you curious about how FINRA Rule 2165 can protect you or a loved one who is being financially exploited? FINRA Rule 2165 helps families and brokers who suspect securities fraud in a vulnerable adult’s account. It allows them to take key actions against investment loss.  While their broker may be trustworthy, your parents or other elderly loved ones may reach a point where they are no longer able to make sound investment decisions. A common example of this is when a parent becomes involved in a Ponzi scheme. Another often-seen scenario is when a parent is defrauded into allowing a nefarious third party access to their accounts. Their accounts are quickly drained before an eagle-eyed broker or a caring son or daughter suspects investment fraud. FINRA Rule 2165 is designed with folks like senior citizens in mind. The rule helps a broker look out for their vulnerable clients’ interests. It also enables them to do so before losses become catastrophic.  FINRA Rule 2165: Financial Exploitation Defined FINRA Rule 2165 defines “financial exploitation” as consisting of either of two circumstances. First, Rule 2165 identifies financial exploitation as the wrongful or unauthorized taking or use of a specified adult’s funds or securities. This first definition is very broad and can encompass many types of financial exploitation. Second, Rule 2165 defines financial exploitation as any action or omission, including through a power of attorney or a guardianship, to do any of the following things:  Obtain control over a specified adult’s money, assets, or property through deception, intimidation, or undue influence; or  Steal the specified adult’s money, assets, or property.  FINRA Rule 2165 only protects “specified adults.” These are vulnerable people who may not be able to make their own financial decisions. FINRA Rule 2165 defines a “specified adult” as: A person age 65 or older; or A person age 18 or older who has a mental or physical impairment that impacts their ability to look after their own interests. The financial exploitation definition under FINRA Rule 2165 relates only to actions taken against specified adults. If you do not fit into the category of “specified adult,” you still may have been the victim of securities fraud. If so, it’s important to reach out to an experienced securities fraud attorney as soon as possible.  How FINRA Rule 2165 Protects Vulnerable Adults from Financial Exploitation FINRA Rule 2165 and its sister rule, FINRA Rule 4512, protect vulnerable adults from financial exploitation. These rules work together to allow a vulnerable person’s broker to freeze disbursement of funds from an account suspected of financial exploitation. They also allow a broker to notify a vulnerable person’s important contacts when the broker suspects financial exploitation is taking place. Preventing the Disbursement of Funds When Financial Exploitation Is Suspected A broker is able to place a temporary hold on a disbursement of funds or securities from a specified adult’s brokerage account if/when: A broker has a reasonable belief that financial exploitation has been or will be attempted, has occurred or is occurring; A broker notifies all parties authorized to transact in the account, as well as the account’s trusted contacts, about the temporary hold and the reason for it; and A broker initiates an internal review of why they believe financial exploitation was taking place. The notification to authorized persons on the account can be made orally or in writing (electronic communication is okay) within two business days. Brokers must communicate clearly and quickly about the temporary hold and the reason for the temporary hold. When working with specified adults, a broker needs to maintain a list of trusted contacts. A trusted contact person does not have to be a signatory on the account but can be anyone the broker can share important account information with.  Notification is a very important element of Rule 2165 because placing a hold on client funds is no small matter. However, if the broker suspects that the trusted contact is the person perpetrating the fraud, the broker is no longer under an obligation to notify them.  Rule 2165 Amends Other Protections Against Exploitation The SEC adopted FINRA Rule 2165 in February 2018, which amended FINRA Rule 4512. Previously, Rule 4512 only required brokers to collect and maintain basic personal data about their clients. Now, brokers are required to make reasonable efforts to obtain and maintain the name of a trusted contact person as well.  This revised rule is a great resource for investors and brokers alike. As the investor population ages, trusted contacts can be an excellent resource for brokers to share concerns about unusual client behavior or diminished capacity to make investment decisions. Early communication can lead to better results for investors, caregivers, and brokers. It can even prevent financial exploitation in the first place. Brokers Are Responsible for Compliance  Brokers now must make decisions about whether their clients have the ability to make financial decisions for themselves. This can be difficult and even embarrassing where brokers and clients have worked together for many years. Cognitive abilities of aging people and people with disabilities can change dramatically in short periods of time. Determining if and when a client is at risk of financial exploitation is a very delicate task. The responsibility falls on brokers to understand when transactions are legitimate or not.  Contact a Securities Fraud Attorney If you or a loved one has been financially exploited, you may have a legal right to pursue action against responsible parties. Experience is key in litigating cases like these. We at The Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A., are eager to help you understand your rights. Robert Pearce has many years of experience in the area of securities fraud. He has arbitrated and mediated hundreds of investment-related disputes in his career. Our team of experienced investment loss litigators has recovered over $140 million dollars for well-qualified investors. We help investors nationwide and internationally pursue claims for a variety of investment losses and frauds. Contact us today about a free initial consultation on your...

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How to Report a Ponzi Scheme

Ponzi-like schemes swindle investors out of millions of dollars every year. A common form of investment fraud, a Ponzi scheme occurs when existing investors receive distributions from funds provided by new investors rather than as a result of profits. Because Ponzi schemes can only function as long as new investors are providing funds, the schemes eventually collapse, resulting in significant losses for new and old investors. While Ponzi schemes are illegal, they nevertheless continue to exist. In fact, some sources have noted that in 2020 Ponzi schemes hit their highest levels in a decade.  If you are a victim of a Ponzi scheme, you may be wondering what recourse you have. Fortunately, there are actions you can take. By reporting a Ponzi scheme, you can help hold these fraudsters accountable and prevent other victims from being taken advantage of as well.  Don’t know where to begin? Contact attorney Robert Wayne Pearce today to learn more about how to report a Ponzi scheme and see what our team can do to help.  What Is a Ponzi Scheme? Financial advisors recommend investment strategies to investors based on their investment profile. In many situations, investors seek investments likely to result in returns based on the profitability of the investment. In a Ponzi scheme, investors do receive “returns.” However, these returns are not from the profits of their investment. Rather, the operator of the Ponzi scheme will issue payments to earlier investors from the new investment funds provided by newer investors. Inevitably, Ponzi schemes will run out of new investors who are willing to invest in the scheme. This results in the inability to issue the fraudulent returns to older investors and causes the entire scheme to crumble. In an ideal world, these types of fraudulent schemes would not exist. Unfortunately, however, there is always some risk that you could fall victim to a Ponzi or Ponzi-like scheme. What’s important is that you know where to turn and what steps you can take moving forward.  If you suspect you invested in a Ponzi scheme, consult with an investment lawyer who can explain the steps you should take next. With over 40 years representing investors, attorney Robert Pearce has the knowledge and experience you need to help you fight for your rights and recovery.  Examples of SEC Enforcement Actions Against Ponzi Schemes In April 2021, the SEC charged Los Angeles-based actor Zachary Horwitz and his company, 1inMM Capital, LLC, in connection with a Ponzi scheme that reportedly raised over $690 million from investors.  Horwitz and his company represented to investors that the investment funds would be used to purchase film rights and that the films would then be sold to Netflix or HBO. Horwitz allegedly claimed to have an extensive track record of selling movie rights to Netflix and HBO, despite the fact that he never maintained a business relationship with either company.  1inMM and Horowitz reportedly promised investors returns in excess of 35%. Instead, Horwitz paid early investors with the funds provided by new investors and misappropriated millions of dollars for himself. In January 2020, the SEC charged California-based husband and wife Jeffrey and Paulette Carpoff with orchestrating a nearly billion-dollar Ponzi scheme involving alternative energy tax credits.  The pair reportedly raised approximately $910 million from 17 investors between 2011 and 2018 by offering securities in the form of investment contracts through two solar generator companies, DC Solar Solutions, Inc., and DC Solar Distributions, Inc. The SEC alleged that the couple used at least $140 million of the investors’ funds to fund their lifestyle and used the remaining funds to issue dividends to earlier investors. If you have fallen victim to a Ponzi scheme, know that you are not alone. Reach out to our investment loss attorneys today to get started on the pathway toward recovery.  Indicators of a Ponzi Scheme Ponzi schemes come in many different shapes and sizes. However, there are certain common indicators of a Ponzi scheme that you should be aware of.  Many red flags associated with Ponzi schemes present themselves prior to and during the investment process. Recognition of these characteristics before making your investment can prevent you from suffering serious losses down the road. Common indicators of a Ponzi scheme include: Promises of high returns with little or no risk; Returns that are overly consistent; The sale of unregistered investments; A lack of transparency regarding the investment strategy; Errors or discrepancies on account statements; and Difficulty receiving or cashing out your payments. The presence of red flags such as these may signal the existence of illegal activity. If you experience any of these issues with your investments, a securities lawyer can help you determine if you invested in a Ponzi scheme.  Reporting a Ponzi Scheme Ponzi schemes can cost investors millions of dollars in losses. In an attempt to curb the operation of the fraudulent schemes, the SEC and FBI provide resources for individuals who suspect Ponzi schemes to report the misconduct. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) The FBI provides an electronic tip form to individuals wishing to report federal law violations. Additionally, for internet-based crimes, the FBI offers another way to submit a tip. Because many Ponzi schemes begin and operate online, this might be the best place to report a Ponzi scheme. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) The SEC also provides defrauded investors an avenue to report suspected Ponzi schemes and other fraudulent activities. SEC Ponzi scheme tips can be submitted online directly through the SEC website.  Contact an Investment Loss Attorney Today Losing your valuable and hard-earned money in a fraudulent Ponzi scheme is never easy. If this has happened to you, we want to help. At the Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A., we have decades of experience helping investment loss victims in need. Firm founder and lead attorney Robert Pearce has recovered funds for over 99% of his investor clients and recovered over $100 million in the last 20 years alone through court litigation, arbitration, and settlements.  Want to know more about...

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Tips for Hiring the Best Structured Product Investment Lawyer

Investment vehicles come in a variety of forms, each with their own benefits and risks. Structured products are one such vehicle. These products can offer a compelling return, but at the cost of increased risk and complexity. If you lost money on a structured product investment, you may be able to file a claim to recover losses with the help of an investment lawyer. What Is a Structured Product? In short, a structured product is a type of security derived from or based on one or more other securities. The defining feature of a structured product, however, is that its return is based on the performance of the underlying asset. Structured products offer a great deal of customization that allows brokers to tailor the risk profile to each individual investor. At the same time, however, they are complicated securities with a level of risk that make them inappropriate for many investors. This complexity makes it more important than ever to make sure you have the best investment lawyer if you lose money on one of these products. Tip #1: Make Sure They Are Familiar with Structured Product Investments As explained above, structured product investments are fairly complex. Your investment lawyer needs to understand that complexity to properly represent you. Even if most investment lawyers are generally familiar with different investment products, a structured product investment lawyer will have additional experience working on cases involving these securities. Tip #2: Make Sure They Understand the Specific Risks of Structured Product Investments As an investor, you’ve no doubt been told many times about the risks involved with particular investments. Your investment lawyer should have the same understanding of those risks. Not only will this allow the lawyer to better understand your particular situation, it also means they will be more familiar with the ways in which a broker may cause you to lose money. For example, making sure your investments are suitable for you is a large part of a broker’s responsibility. Considerations as to the suitability of a structured product generally include: The volatility of the underlying asset; Tax implications based on structured products being considered “contingent payment debt instruments” by the IRS; Limits or caps on the product’s pay-outs; Accurately assessing the price of the product; Lack of an established trading market for structured products; and Loss of principal. Because structured products are so customizable, the specific risks associated with a specific structured product investment may vary. Tip #3: Ask About Their Experience with FINRA Arbitration and Mediation Many brokerage firms require investors to agree to arbitration when they open a brokerage account. While similar to court proceedings, arbitration is somewhat different and requires its own set of skills. At our firm, for example, Robert Wayne Pearce has handled arbitration and mediation before many regulatory authorities, including the Securities and Exchange Commission. In summary, the best investment lawyers will be those with experience in the specific types of proceedings relevant to your case. Tip #4: Ask Them About Their Familiarity with FINRA Rules and Broker Responsibilities The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), administers the set of rules that bind brokers and protect investors. Understanding these rules is just as important for investment lawyers as for brokers. Only with a deep understanding of the FINRA rules can a lawyer provide the most thorough representation to protect your rights. For example, FINRA rules prohibit brokers from “selling away,” a term for selling securities not offered by their brokerage firm. Unfortunately, brokers sometimes offer unapproved securities to their clients. With structured products, the risk can be especially high. Additionally, keep in mind that not all broker violations are obvious. Every investor’s situation is slightly different, and the way in which a broker might harm an investor is highly dependent on the facts of each case. Accordingly, you can’t go wrong by having a lawyer with experience who has handled structured investment loss claims before. Tip #4: Assess Whether You Get Along with Them An often-overlooked part of hiring legal counsel is whether you actually like your lawyer. While there’s nothing wrong with hiring an attorney based on their pedigree, it’s important not to forget that your attorney should also be someone you can work with. As with any other professional service, you shouldn’t have to put up with an attorney you dislike, especially if your case will last a long time. When you’re looking for an investment lawyer, figure out what kind of lawyer you’d like: do you prefer someone who doesn’t bother you unless there’s a major development, or would you rather be kept in the loop with more frequent updates? Do you value a friendly “bedside manner,” or are you ok with stricter professionalism? Tip #5: Ask Them About Previous Experience Handling Similar Cases Structured investment product claims may involve unique or complex issues. An attorney with previous experience handling such claims will be much better equipped to help you recover losses if possible. Tip #6: Find Out Their Track Record of Obtaining Settlements Investment lawyers typically include information about their past settlement awards directly on their website. If they don’t, it’s something you can ask about during your initial consultation. The best structured product investment lawyer will be one with a proven track record of winning cases for clients. Tip #7: Confirm Their Reputation Within the Legal Community As members of a profession with a high ethical standard, a lawyer’s reputation is hugely important. Whatever the size of the firm, it can be useful to vet their reputation like you would with another personal service. State and local bar associations and personal recommendations are a good way to evaluate any attorney. You can also check resources like the Martindale-Hubbell peer rating program, which ranks attorneys based on peer ratings and client reviews. Ready to Hire an Investment Lawyer? The Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A. is a Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent rated firm with more than 40 years of experience representing investors and brokers. If you lost money through a structured...

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FINRA Rule 3270: Outside Business Activities

When you engage a registered investment adviser to manage your money, you want to make sure that nothing will interfere with your securities professional’s duty to you. FINRA Rule 3270, referred to outside business activities, gives transparency to potential conflicts of interest your investment adviser may have.  FINRA Rule 3270 requires your investment advisor to disclose their outside business activities. The purpose of FINRA 3270 is to keep FINRA member firms accountable to you, the client. If you are concerned that your securities professional might have violated certain disclosure rules, a knowledgeable FINRA arbitration lawyer can help you understand your options. FINRA Rule 3270 Requires Disclosure of Outside Business Activities In plain English, FINRA Rule 3270 means that your investment adviser may not engage in any outside business activities unless they have provided proper disclosure to their employer. FINRA rules about outside business activities are an important tool to protect investors. These help you to understand whether your investment adviser is putting your interests first. What Is a FINRA Outside Business Activity? FINRA outside business activities are broadly defined. FINRA Rule 3270 states that they include any paid work performed outside of a securities professional’s employment. This includes: Working as an employee for another company; Working as an independent contractor for another company; Serving as an officer, director, or partner of any outside board or organization; Receiving payment for any outside services; and Having the reasonable expectation of being paid for any outside business activities. This rule only requires an investment advisor to notify his or her employer of FINRA outside business activities. It does not require the investment advisor to do anything beyond provide a notification. Instead, the FINRA member firm makes a determination about what outside business activities are acceptable to the firm and its clients. The firm decides how or if outside business activities should continue to be carried out. Common Examples of FINRA Outside Business Activities Common examples of outside business activities include: Acting as both a financial advisor and a certified public accountant; Sitting on the board of directors of an outside organization, whether or not this activity is paid work; and Advising a start-up company for free but expecting future compensation once the company begins to turn a profit. Your investment advisor needs to report any of these activities to their employer under FINRA 3270.  The examples above are not exhaustive. An investment adviser also needs to report their wedding photography business or snorkel tour side-gig to their employer under the rules. FINRA rules about outside business activities apply to any paid work. Passive Investments Are Not Outside Business Activities While FINRA Rule 3270 casts a wide net, it allows investment advisers to make passive personal investments. Investing in diversified index funds or private securities transactions is not an outside business activity. Investment advisers may also put their personal funds into a blind trust. Blind trusts do not allow people to direct how their money is invested. Other FINRA rules require some disclosure about personal investments to ensure that your broker is being as transparent as possible about their potential conflicts of interest. FINRA Rule 3280 requires disclosure of private securities transactions. Your securities professional must strictly comply with this rule and its requirements. Your brokerage firm should ensure the investment adviser’s compliance with FINRA Rule 3280.  Responsibility of Brokerage Firms to Clients Once an investment advisor makes an outside business activities disclosure, the FINRA member firm must take important action. Each firm typically has its own form for reporting and its own protocol for review.  How Do Firms Determine Whether an Outside Business Activity Is Acceptable? Once a firm receives a disclosure, it needs to decide whether the outside business activities are acceptable. The FINRA member firm reviews all facts surrounding the disclosure. Then the firm answers two key questions to protect investors like you. First, Rule 3270 asks a FINRA member firm to consider all the circumstances surrounding the outside business activities. The review includes assessing the type of outside business, reviewing the time spent on the business, and confirming the type or amount of compensation received. The firm must decide whether outside business activities will interfere with the securities professional’s responsibilities to their employer and/or the firm’s clients. Second, Rule 3270 asks a FINRA member firm to think about whether outside business activities will be viewed by customers or the public as part of the member’s business. This review assesses whether a client would confuse the investment adviser’s outside business activities with their securities business.  How Do Firms Address Outside Business Activities That Conflict with an Advisor’s Duties? If the firm determines that the investment adviser’s outside business activities interfere with their responsibilities to the firm or its clients, then the firm should limit or prohibit the activity. FINRA Rule 3270 also requires firms to maintain a record of compliance. It is the firm’s responsibility to keep records of all outside business activities disclosures and compliance reviews. Brokerage firms are responsible to their clients to ensure that they are providing appropriate and conflict-free service in managing client assets. FINRA member firms must represent that their investment advisers are not engaging in outside business activities that compromise client interests. If you believe that your brokerage firm has failed to hold investment advisers accountable to FINRA Rule 3270 or otherwise adhere to conflict of interest rules, the firm may be liable for investor losses. Now may be the time to file a FINRA complaint against your advisor or broker. Have You Been Harmed by Your Investment Advisor’s Outside Business Activities? If you are an investor with concerns that your investment professional has failed to disclose important information to you, please call The Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A. Our firm has successfully represented individuals harmed by broker and investment advisor negligence or misconduct for over 40 years. Cases involving violations of FINRA rules are complex. Attorney Pearce has the expertise and experience to help you navigate any kind of securities or investment dispute....

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