Texas Securities Commissioner Travis J. Iles entered an emergency action on May 1 against Metals.com, an unregistered firm accused of cold-calling elderly investors to convince them to liquidate their securities in registered firms and invest in precious metals.
According to the Emergency Cease and Desist Order, the firm convinced an 80-year-old Dallas woman to liquidate $850,000 in her retirement accounts and transfer the money to invest with the company.
The order arose from a report to the State Securities Board of suspected financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, defined as a person 65 or older or having a cognitive disability.
The report was filed by a registered firm where the woman was a client. The firm reported that it believed the woman did not understand the investment opportunity Metals.com presented to her and did not realize Metals.com was going to move her money into a new, self-directed, Individual Retirement Account.
According to the order, Metals.com salespeople are cold-calling potential investors in Texas and elsewhere to try to convince them that their money isn’t safe at registered brokers and investment advisers and they should move their funds into precious metals investments.
The majority of Metals.com’s clients are 65 to 90 years old, according to evidence secured by the Enforcement Division of the State Securities Board.
The order names TMTE Inc., which does business as Metals.com, Chase Metals LLC and Chase Metals Inc., and salespeople Walter Vera, Michael Kendall, and Athena Hunter. The firms list addresses in Beverly Hills, Calif., and Wyoming.
According to the order, Metals.com is using scare tactics to dislodge investors’ existing accounts.
The company, Vera, and Kendall are advising potential investors that their traditional securities are not safe investments and holding them subjects them to significant risks. They, along with Hunter, are also advising potential investors to sell their securities and invest in precious metals through a self-directed IRA.
Metals.com is telling potential investors that investments in precious metals are reliable investments that will preserve their value regardless of how the stock market does and provide a better hedge against inflation.
The firm is also threatening clients who have publicly complained about their purchase of precious metals from Metals.com. On April 17, a law firm representing Metals.com sent a letter it called a “Pre-Lawsuit Notice” and a “Cease and Desist Demand” to a 75-year-old retired schoolteacher who had publicly complained about rolling over her IRA to invest $65,991 in precious metals from Metals.com.
According to the order, Vera, Kendall and Hunter are acting as unregistered investment adviser representatives because they are being compensated for advice related to investing in, purchasing, or selling securities.
Although Metals.com is telling potential investors it does not charge a fee for the purchase of precious metals, investors are allegedly paying a spread between the retail and wholesale price of the metals. That spread is as high as 33% for transactions involving individual retirement accounts.
Sales representatives can earn additional compensation from sales contests and other activities to boost sales, according to the order.
Metals.com is providing legal documents to clients that say the firm and its salespeople are not providing investment advisory services – a misrepresentation of a relevant fact. The firm is also allegedly using fraudulent tactics to convince investors to assume all risks, waive warranties and limit the liability of Metals.com.
Metals.com and the other respondents named in the order have 31 days to challenge the action in the State Office of Administrative Hearings in Austin.