For my entire legal career I have fought the financial hucksters, swindlers and Madoffs of the world. They are the people that feel no shame and no guilt taking money from the innocent, whether they are seniors and retirees, moms and even hard-working business people.
My work has again brought me to Arizona because of how lax the state’s laws are to prevent and prosecute fraudulent schemes and white collar crimes. These schemes and crimes can be particularly pervasive and damaging around the holidays. Currently, I am working in the Valley on behalf of victims hustled by one David Harbour, a purported financial advisor and a member of the Phoenix Thunderbirds and ASU Sun Devil Club. Like them all he ingratiates himself by pretending to manage money and faking success by living large. But beneath his phony glamour is a man who spends other people’s savings on himself, hoping he never gets caught. These guys often do but only after it’s too late, once the savings from hard work and a life’s efforts have been wasted away and lost forever.
Harbour recently got popped by the Security and Exchange Commission who hammered him for his unethical and illegal behavior towards his clients. The Arizona Republic did the public a service by writing about Harbour’s scam and punishment not long ago.
As the weather cools more and the snowbirds roll in, more con artists like Harbour will follow. I write now in hopes of preventing you from becoming a financial fraud victim, and to encourage Arizona lawmakers to bolster state law enforcement against financial con artists, as they soon get ready to convene another legislative session.
First, here is what readers can do to protect themselves from these bad actors:
- Make sure you thoroughly research the person who manages your money. Start with a Google search. You might be surprised at what you find.
- Run the manager’s name through Broker Check (www.finra.org) and the Securities and Exchange Commission system (www.adviserinfo.sec.gov).
- Understand exactly how and where your money is being invested. If you don’t, then get out.
- Make sure that your broker or advisor holds your money with a reputable and financially stable firm or an outside custodian whose name and company history you can research.
Second, based on my experience across the country representing victims of financial fraud, there are several steps I encourage the Arizona State Legislature to take in order to provide the Attorney General and law enforcement with more policies and tools to fight on behalf of consumers.
- Fund the Attorney General’s office to staff it with experienced financial investigators and prosecutors.
- Bolster the Arizona Corporation Commission so that it can confront and fight financial fraudsters.
- Financial exploitation is a fast-growing form of abuse of seniors and adults. Enact Elder Financial Abuse laws that other states have enacted. Protect our seniors.
By acting proactively I hope that Arizona and the victims I represent here will be able to turn tragedy into a transformative tale of how to better protect all state residents, giving no safe harbor to any criminal endeavor named David, or otherwise.
Tom Ajamie is the co-author of the book Financial Serial Killers: Inside the World of Wall Street Money Hustlers, Swindlers, and Con Men. He has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for people who have been scammed by financial advisors, brokers and banks. He won the largest financial arbitration award in US history, $429 million. Ajamie was born and raised in the Valley, was Student Body President of ASU, and now he lives and works in Houston and New York.