‘Can you trust stock brokers?’ Talk about a loaded question. Anytime you’re trying to evaluate the trustworthiness of a whole profession or a wide class of people, you might run into the very common problem of stereotyping. One bad apple (or a few dozen) doesn’t necessarily have to spoil all apples. Still, many people do think in terms of generalities and this is a reality we have to live with. Here are some important factors to consider when trying to decide whether you can trust stock brokers or not.
Which stock broker?
In deciding whether you can trust stock brokers or not, you have to remember that there are actually many different types of stock brokers. Many people lump all brokers in one class and judge this class. This is not fair considering the different types of stock brokers out there. Here are just a few of the most common classes of stock brokers.
This stock broker just executes your trades for you. This broker doesn’t make any recommendations regarding which stock to buy or sell.
This stockbroker actively ‘pitches’ clients on stocks to buy. By law, such brokers are required to disclose if their company has a vested interest in the stocks they are pushing.
While not technically a stockbroker, analysts are very influential opinion makers in the world of stocks. They study particular stocks or industries and recommend stock buys or sales. Like sales brokers, they are required by law to disclose whether the company they work or they themselves have an interest in the stocks they are recommending.
As you can tell from the descriptions above, it would not be fair to say trading brokers are ‘untrustworthy’ because they merely execute trades on behalf of their clients. It would be fair to ask, however, whether you can trust an analyst or a sales broker. While most of these brokers are on the up and up, there are quite a number of shady operators who give the whole industry a bad name. Many of the more aggressive shady operators use boiler room operations and pressure sales tactics to victimize investors. What follows is a quick guide on how you can protect yourself from shady stock brokers and stock sales operators.
Protecting yourself from shady operators: a basic guide
This guide is not meant to be an exhaustive guide on how to avoid being victimized by shady stock brokers. Instead, this guide lays the basic groundwork you should follow to minimize your chances of being ripped off. As always, if something is too good to be true, it usually is.
Trust only legitimate companies
Companies spend a lot of time and money building a solid corporate brand. A solid brand is the result of many satisfied customers and a very minimal level of customer complaints. Not all businesses and firms in the financial industry can lay claim to a solid brand. If you get solicited by a stockbroker, either over the phone or through an email or physical mail, your eyes should quickly search the message for the logo of a company you can recognize. If you don’t recognize the company, research it quickly online. If it is a solid company with a solid reputation, you should be able to quickly dig up many mentions of the company as well as possible awards or big projects. However, you shouldn’t limit yourself to what search engine results say about the company of the broker that contacted you. Thanks to search engine optimization (SEO), bad reviews, bad reports, and other damaging information regarding companies are fairly easy to ‘push down’ in search engine results.
If you want maximum peace of mind, visit the SEC’s website and do a search on the name of the firm of the broker that contacted you. Public complaints, enforcement lawsuits, and other enforcement actions by the SEC are put on the public record. It should be fairly easy to see if the firm of the broker who is soliciting you has had lawsuits filed against it or if the company or its members faced fines or other serious penalties.
Ask to see the research
Assuming that you’re dealing with a legitimate company, don’t let this fact lull you into thinking that you should do business with the broker. You need to be vigilant. Just because you are dealing with a company with a good reputation doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get ripped off. There is always a first time for everything. Ask the broker for research materials and other objective information you can research which backs up the broker’s conclusion that the stock he or she is recommending is due for a ‘breakthrough.’ Pay attention to earnings, earnings growth, industry ranking, market share, and industry growth so you can make a truly informed decision. Don’t just take the broker’s word for it.
Take what you read online with a grain of salt
Your next step is to do research on the individual company being recommended to you. Take a look at what other people have to say about the company. At this stage, you have to remember that there is no such thing as 100% favorabilitiy. There will always be negative stuff online because there are haters all over the Internet. In fact, many negative blog posts and articles are actually written by competitors of the company. This is not the problem. The problem is if you see a constant negative pattern. Where there is smoke there is fire, after all. If you see such a pattern regarding the company you’re researching, stay out of the stock. When in doubt, stay out.
Be on your guard when researching stock forums
Another resource you should check are stock forums. You’d be surprised at the nuggets you can unearth using stock forums when researching your stock picks. With that said, keep in mind that there are many people engaged in ‘pump and dump’ scams on stock forums. Be on your guard. Always look for secondary information besides what the promoter or poster is saying regarding a certain stock.
Can you trust stock brokers? The answer, of course, is it depends. It depends on the type of stockbroker, and it depends on the nature of the investment opportunity the broker is pushing. By following the tips listed above, you can increase your chances of avoiding victimization by boiler room operations and pump and dump schemes.