Monica Lindeen, Montana commissioner of insurance and securities, presented a clear message in Havre Thursday through a documentary and in her discussion: Care and research can prevent investment fraud, but people who think something wrong is going on should take action.
“Please, please, please call, ” Lindeen said after a screening of “Gold Diggers: Investment Fraud in the Treasure State” a documentary about two investment advisors who scammed Montanans out of millions of dollars.
The documentary tells the stories of dozens of Montana investors bilked out of some $3 million in two separate scams. Lindeen’s office made the film, and is screening it throughout the state, through a grant from the Investor Protection Trust.
She screened the documentary in Chester Thursday morning, then held a dinner and screening at the Elks Lodge in Havre that evening.
Lindeen said the screenings so far have been well-attended. In Havre, more than 80 people packed the room in the Elks Lodge for the presentation.
Free copies of the documentary were available at the Elks screening, and Lindeen said people can call her office to request additional copies.
In one scheme described in the documentary, Arthur Heffelfinger of Helena, took millions of dollars from Montana investors, including hundreds of thousands of dollars from a 98-year-old woman suffering from dementia.
The other featured case told the story of Anne Marie Schlenker of Bozeman, who took loans on client’s accounts, including the life insurance benefit a young widow with two young daughters invested with her, to support her lifestyle including buying clothes, jewelry, a new house and trips overseas.
Both Heffelfinger and Schlenker were convicted after they were investigated and prosecuted by Lindeen’s office. Both are serving prison sentences and banned from the investment industry for life.
As both were working for respectable firms, the firms paid back the full amount to the investors scammed by Heffelfinger and Schlenker. That cannot always be counted on.
The documentary features some of those investors who agreed to be interviewed and tell their stories. Narrated by actor Bill Pullman, it tells how the investors came to know — and trust — the investment advisors, invested their money and then discovered they had been robbed of their money.
The documentary, which features interviews with Lindeen and members of her staff, and Lindeen herself after the screening, showed ways to avoid investment fraud and steps people can take if they believe someone is defrauding them.
The first step is to make sure the investment advisor is legitimate. Lindeen said a call to her office can show people whether the advisor and the company the advisor represents are registered and licensed in the state.
Most if not all investment scams involve the criminal gaining the victim’s trust, Lindeen said.
“So, no matter how much you may trust somebody, do your homework, ” she said. “One of the ways you can do that is call our office, because if anyone is offering you an investment opportunity, they have to be registered with our office. ”
She said her office staff members also can talk to people about different kinds of investments.
“We’re not going to tell you how to invest your money, we would never do that … but we can explain certain types of investments for you, ” Lindeen said.
And, she said, if people think something is going wrong and cannot resolve it through their investment advisor and the advisor’s company, they need to contact the commissioner’s office.
Often people are embarrassed and don’t want their family or neighbors to know they have been scammed, or may be afraid of losing their financial independence. But, Lindeen said, it is crucial to contact the commissioner.
“It’s difficult, but remember, if you’ve been taken in a scam it’s most likely others are being taken as well, ” Lindeen said. “And until we get a phone call, and until somebody lets us know that something maybe is going on, we can’t begin our investigation and hopefully bring these people to justice, and hopefully get your money back. ”
Office of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance: (406) 444-2040.