FINRA Statute of Limitations: A Brief Overview

Investment brokers have a duty to treat their clients honesty and with integrity. Those who take advantage of, mislead, or steal from their clients shake the investing industry’s foundation. Regrettably, broker misconduct occurs all too often.  You need representation from an attorney who has the knowledge, skill, and extensive experience to help you recover your losses if you are a victim of investment broker misconduct. Robert Wayne Pearce and his staff with The Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A., have over 40 years of experience fighting on behalf of investors victimized by broker misconduct. Contact us today to protect your rights. 

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What Is Selling Away?

The securities industry is one of the most regulated, largely because of the high potential for fraud and abuse. Various laws and regulations protect investors by imposing requirements on securities transactions and the people who facilitate them. Individual brokers and brokerage firms must be registered and licensed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) before they are permitted to conduct securities transactions. FINRA also administers a number of exams that provide certification for selling specific kinds of securities. All of these regulations exist to protect investors from fraudulent conduct by brokers. Nevertheless, brokers occasionally attempt to skirt the rules and offer private deals to their clients. Not only do these transactions violate FINRA rules, they also pose additional risks for investors. What Is Selling Away? “Selling away” describes the practice of selling securities in unauthorized private transactions outside the regular scope of the broker’s business. Brokerage firms maintain a list of approved securities their brokers are allowed to offer. By approving products ahead of time, brokerage firms ensure that their brokers sell only securities that are vetted and verified as legitimate products. Brokers sell away when they offer their clients securities not on the firm’s approved product list. Brokers may sell away if they want to make extra commissions without sharing with their firm. Selling away is not always malicious; sometimes, a broker means well but isn’t able to offer the securities a client wants through normal channels. Regardless of the broker’s intent, however, FINRA prohibits selling away and sanctions brokers for doing so. Common Examples of Selling Away While there is no specific form a selling-away transaction takes, they frequently involve certain types of investments. These investments include: Private placements involving unregistered securities; Private deals involving promissory notes; and Real estate deals conducted privately and away from the broker’s regular business. Deals that involve selling away often exhibit the same red flags as other types of investment fraud, like Ponzi schemes. Excessively high or consistent returns are indicators that the deal is probably too good to be true. What Are the Risks of Investing in Securities That Are Sold Away? Investments of all kinds carry a certain level of risk. However, investing in a selling-away deal carries more risk because they come without the safeguards that accompany approved investments. Lack of screening First, selling-away deals involve securities that are not screened by the brokerage firm. Brokerage firms screen the products they offer for a reason: to make sure that their customers have access to solid investments. Without these safeguards, investors are taking on significantly higher risk. Lack of disclosures Second, selling away deals rarely include the formal risk disclosures found with approved brokerage products. There is no review of the investment by the brokerage’s compliance department, and the exact nature of the risk involved may be unclear. Less accountability Finally, it may be harder to recover losses. When a broker engages in an approved transaction, the brokerage takes on liability for the broker’s activity. Because brokerages are often completely unaware of selling-away transactions, it is much harder to prove liability on the part of the brokerage. In the case of significant investor losses, this can mean less money recovered overall. Selling-Away FINRA Regulations There are two main FINRA regulations that cover selling away: Rule 3270 and Rule 3280.  FINRA Rule 3270 prohibits brokers from engaging in activities that are outside of the broker’s relationship with their brokerage firm unless written notice is provided to the firm.  FINRA Rule 3280 is similar, and prohibits brokers from engaging in private securities transactions (including selling away) without first providing written notice to their firm. After receiving that notice, the member firm may approve or disapprove the transaction. If the firm approves, then the firm supervises and records the transaction. Disapproval, on the other hand, prohibits the broker from participation in the transaction either directly or indirectly. What Are the Penalties for Selling Away? Both brokers and brokerage firms can be held liable when a broker sells away. FINRA regulations require brokers to offer securities products suitable for each of their client’s needs. Brokers must account for their clients’ objectives, level of investing sophistication, and risk tolerances. When a broker fails to fulfill this obligation, FINRA may sanction, suspend, or bar the broker from the financial industry. According to FINRA’s Sanctions Guidelines, Brokers who engage in selling away open themselves up to monetary sanctions between $2,500 and $77,000 for each rule violation. For serious violations, FINRA may suspend the broker for up to two years or permanently bar them from practicing as a broker. The severity of the penalty depends on several factors: Whether the selling away involved customers of the broker’s firm; How directly the selling away relates to the injury caused to investors; How long the outside activity occurred; The amount of money involved in the sales; Whether the broker misled their firm or clients with respect to the transactions; and How important the broker was in facilitating the transaction. Because selling away involves transactions outside of a broker’s relationship with their brokerage firm, holding the firm responsible for investor losses is more difficult. Nevertheless, a brokerage firm may still be liable for the conduct of its brokers under FINRA regulations. Brokerage firms have an obligation to supervise the brokers with which they are associated. Failure to do so may result in the firm’s liability to the investor. How Do I Recover Losses from Selling Away Deals? Investors can try to recover their losses through several formal and informal methods. Speaking with a securities attorney is the best way to determine which method is right for your situation. FINRA Arbitration Many brokerage firms require their customers to sign mandatory arbitration clauses. If this is the case, then the investor must use FINRA’s arbitration process rather than filing a lawsuit.  Arbitration starts when the investor files a claim. From there, the parties go through similar procedures to those in the regular court system. Each side will engage in discovery and present their...

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