The landscape is getting treacherous, and it makes good sense to verify that all professionals who provide services to you (or advise and manage your family’s health and wealth) are on the ball.
The fact is most American service providers cut their professional teeth in an era of expanding wealth and success for America. Ask yourself: Are these people right for the times we live in now?
The current economic realities have created new pressures that tempt some professionals to cut corners, and becoming a con artist is an emerging line of work.
Bernie Madoff’s $65 Billion Ponzi scheme is the largest and most public example. Madoff demonstrated not only that these schemes can be very large and elaborate, but also that very sophisticated people – those “who should know better” – can and do fall for them.
However real estate scams, crooks impersonating doctors, and attorneys working without a license are common stories that end up on the back pages of the press. Yet, these individuals can do just as much damage to the victims. Vigilance is warranted.
It’s up to you to do your due diligence on potential advisors before hiring them. And even if you’re working with highly reputable specialists who’ve been recommended by trusted colleagues, how about the medical or financial advisors your parents or adult children are using?
Here’s a list to help you start your due diligence process before hiring the next advisor for you or your family:
Make Sure They’re Well-Qualified and Well-Behaved
Some brokers, unfortunately, aren’t on the “up and up.” But until recently, you had to jump onto three different securities related web sites to research a securities broker’s record (NASD, SEC, and NASAA). Now there’s a newly improved tool for vetting securities brokers, uncover credentials, customer complaints, disciplinary actions, and other tidbits via FINRA’s (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) BrokerCheck web page
According to its web site: “FINRA is the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States. BrokerCheck is a free tool to help investors research the professional backgrounds of current and former FINRA-registered brokerage firms and brokers. It should be the first resource investors turn to when choosing whether to do business or continue to do business with a particular broker or brokerage firm.”
You may be reassured by what you find – or alarmed. Either way, it’s worth getting the down-and-dirty on the people to whom you’re paying commissions!
One last point: Make sure your broker reflects your personal values. For example, if you agree with much of what we alert you about, you might well want to shoot your broker a copy of our financial bulletins. But we must warn you in advance: Most brokers have spent their careers steeped in an investment climate dominated by debt-financed consumption, the financial industry, and the now-dying “service economy.” So yours may have difficulty accepting our sober assessment of the nation’s fundamentals, and he or she may not be eager to help you invest outside of the mainstream (which you MUST do).
Our advice? Make sure your broker understands the “hard money” issue.
Check Them Out Before Your Mom or Dad Move In
Are you considering a nursing home for a loved one? If it’s Medicare or Medicaid-certified you can use the Medicare web site to start your research on nursing home quality: http://www.medicare.gov/nhcompare
Check Up on Your CPAs and Enrolled Agents
The people who handle your cash, financial accounts, and tax records are in a position to do real long-term damage. Often times they’re able to get away with it for many months or years because they can play with the numbers.
Review the record or license of a CPA by going to your state’s Board of Accounting or Board of Public Accountancy.
You can also look up the CPA on the national American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) web site.
And if you’re going to work with an Enrolled Agent for tax purposes, go to the IRS web site to look up his or her professional record.
An Inside Look at Doctors, Dentists, and Hospitals
You won’t get much help looking up the transgressions of a doctor on either the American Medical Association or American Dental Association web sites, because they have an inherent bias (their dues-paying members are the doctors themselves). It’s better to start at your state’s Board of Medicine.
may also be useful if you want to read user generated reviews on local doctors and dentists. Oftentimes however, Internet rating sites aren’t much help because you don’t know if you can trust the anonymous reviewers.
What makes Angie’s List different is there are “no anonymous reviews and they use a certified data collection process, which prevents companies and providers from reporting on themselves or their competitors.”
What Attorneys Don’t Want You to Know
Before agreeing to pay the hourly fee on the next attorney you plan to hire, take a peek at his or her record by visiting your State Bar Association’s web site. Go to Google and type in the search string: [Your State] State Bar Association.
Real Estate Agents and Insurance Agents
Real estate and insurance licensing varies widely from state to state. The best bet is to start online at your state’s Department of Real Estate or Department of Insurance.
When looking for a favorable neighborhood for your kids (even for stay-overs at friends’ houses), you can now check to make sure a sex offender is not a neighbor.
The U.S. Department of Justice lists convicted sex offenders at a special web site: www.nsopr.gov
All you need to do is enter your zip code and the search engine spits out all registered sex offenders in your area. You can also search by name. Not all data provided by states is perfect, but it can sometimes alert you to take prudent precautionary measures.
Another site that provides more comprehensive resources on keeping your kids (or grandkids) safe: www.missingkids.com
A Web Site IRS Agents Don’t Want You to Visit!
Want to find out if an IRS representative has a reputation for being dishonest and abusive – or perhaps (against all odds) friendly and charitable? There’s a web site for that! Point your browser to: http://www.irsdoghouse.com/
The banner on this site may amuse some and even offend others. But graphics aside, the site contains “the world’s first and only database of anonymously publicly generated reviews of IRS personnel.” On the site, individual taxpayers and tax professionals alike describe their experiences with particular IRS employees and rate them. You can browse the “doghouse” for reviews or search by employee name.
Increase the Scrutiny
You Apply to Professionals You Hire
The above list is simply a starting point. We offer it because most people don’t know how, or even that it’s possible, to look into the background of their next advisor. Most stumble onto these resources too late, after the tragedy has happened or the money (not to mention their faith in their fellow men) is long gone.
There are lots of incompetent, ineffective, and unethical individuals out there. So kick the tires of the next professional you plan to trust with your family’s wealth and health.