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Joe Dickerson article feature in The Journal of New England Technology

Finance
 Due diligence an important step to take prior to investing
By Tony Monterastelli

FFS_mhtMany techies love to invest their money in other tech companies. But whether you’re putting up seed money for a startup, or buying the stock of a public company, look out for more than just the market risk. Look for signs of fraud. Here are some tips for making proper due diligence a regular part of your investment decisions, according to Joe Dickerson, a private financial investigator based in Lakewood. Many of his customers are investors who hire him to check out companies and businesses before they invest.

… Closely examine the structure, even the location, of the company.
For example, think twice before investing in a limited liability company and limited liability partnership, Dickerson said. An LLC or an LLP make it easy for the owners to hide financial and business shenanigans, he said. “There are still a lot of legitimate LLCs and LLPs,” Dickerson said. “But it raises a red flag.”

… Location matters, too.
 Caution lights illuminate when Dickerson sees that a company is incorporated in California or Florida, especially when its offices are in Orange County, Calif., or Boca Raton, Fla. With many wealthy retirees, those areas tend to attract more than their share of scam artists, he said.

… Read the company’s reports.
Public companies must file regular quarterly and annual reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission if they have more than 500 shareholders and at least $10 million in assets. All companies that list their securities on the Nasdaq Stock Market or the New York Stock Exchange file reports with the SEC, and anybody can get those reports for free from the SEC’s EDGAR database (located at www.sec.gov). However, the reports never will give you the whole story, Dickerson said. For example, a company will report that it has been sued for patent infringement, but it won’t say whether the suit involves a crucial technology, he said. “It’s going to get couched in minimal terms,” Dickerson said. “But you’re going to have enough information that you’ll be able to make additional inquiries.”

… Beware of penny stock companies.
These companies generally have shares priced under $5, have few assets and usually are just in the idea stage, with few, if any, customers and little revenue. In the tech realm, many such companies trade on the National Association of Securities Dealers Over The Counter Bulletin Board (OTC BB), a quotation service that never should be confused with the Nasdaq stock exchange. Penny stocks can tempt tech-savvy investors. Usually, the concept sounds exciting, and at such low prices, they offer the chance to amass a large ownership position, along with the feeling of getting into an investment at the ground level.

But sometimes the people who run these companies engage in “pump and dump” schemes, which are among the 10 most frequent forms of stock fraud listed by the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), a group of state securities officials. Such schemes often involve the use of paid stock promoters who tout the company’s stock in the media and on Internet message boards. Beware of companies that issue press releases that hype the potential of their technology, often saying that it will “revolutionize” their industry, especially when the company has no customers and little, if any, revenue. Stock promoters should clearly disclose whether the company has paid them to tout the firm. The NASD can give a partial disciplinary history on the broker or firm that’s touting the stock through its toll-free disclosure hotline, 800-289-9999, or its Web site at www.nasdr.com.

… Beware of timely or trendy ideas.
In the mid-1990s, some investors fell for bogus “wireless cable” investments, despite the oxymoron, because those words sounded like a hot new technology, Dickerson said. While most techies know enough not to fall for such a fabrication, it’s good to look twice at investments in hot technologies. According to the NASD, scams have arisen recently regarding companies – or supposed companies – that make defense, anti-terrorism or biological detection products. Often the company claims that is has technologies or services that will help the war against terrorism or protect the public from biological threats, such as anthrax.

… Finally, know who you invest with.
Know your company executives well, Dickerson said. For example, Dickerson starts by checking a company president’s driving records. “I want to know how many times he’s been arrested for driving under the influence. It tells you something. If you’re going to invest your money with somebody, you don’t want all of it going up his nose,” he said. “If people would look at who they invest with, they would avoid a lot of bad investments.” Above all, Dickerson reminds investors to heed these familiar rules: “There’s no free lunch, and if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

As Seen In

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Michael Whalen, 
Businessman

2014-11-11T18:21:13+00:00

Michael Whalen, 
Businessman

“Financial Forensic Services did an excellent job in the way they executed my case. They were very straightforward. They stated what they could do for us and they did it. And, from a personal standpoint, they are excellent. Both my wife and I felt very comfortable working with them.”

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Frank Brainerd, Retired
Banker/Attorney

2014-11-11T18:20:20+00:00

Frank Brainerd, Retired
Banker/Attorney

“When I was general counsel for First Interstate Bank, I used Joe Dickerson for locating assets, investigating behavior and asset discovery. He did excellent work and always got the information I needed without compromising the bank in any way. He’s more thorough and kept in better touch with me than other investigators. I’d give him a grade of 96 or 97 out of 100.”

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Jim Thomas
, Prosecuting Attorney

2014-11-11T18:21:32+00:00

Jim Thomas
, Prosecuting Attorney

“They went overboard in providing excellent service. I was very pleased with what they provided for me as their end product. Financial Forensic Services really understands how a case needs to be put together in order to be presented to a jury. Their PowerPoint presentation tied everything together. It was thorough, it was concise, and it got the job done.”

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Tim Gabelhouse
, Attorney at Law

2014-11-11T18:20:41+00:00

Tim Gabelhouse
, Attorney at Law

“As an environmental law firm, we use Joe Dickerson to locate prior business owners and do corporate genealogies. He is persistent, that’s the key to a good investigator, and he has a knack for understanding how people move money and do business. That tells him what rocks to look under. Joe is vastly superior to other investigators in two ways: he lets you know what’s going on and he’s honest with you, because he tells you if there’s really anything there worth pursuing. He is unusually thorough and creative finding people. Joe has earned his fee every time.” “If the information is to be found, then I believe that they will find it. Their service enabled me to do a much better job for my client.”

” I was prepared to dismiss a federal case involving millions of dollars against a local individual who claimed to have no substantial assets. After your staff hit the records and delved into the transactions behind the transactions, you discovered the individual to actually be worth a few million dollars. We continued the case to conclusion. We were also very happy with the financial background examinations you conducted of the former directors of two failed national banks. The heart of any civil case is whether there is a pot at the end of the lawsuit. You were our lucky leprechaun in finding such pots.”

R. Michael Sentel
, Former Section Chief Legal Division, FDIC

2014-11-11T18:13:08+00:00

R. Michael Sentel
, Former Section Chief Legal Division, FDIC

” I was prepared to dismiss a federal case involving millions of dollars against a local individual who claimed to have no substantial assets. After your staff hit the records and delved into the transactions behind the transactions, you discovered the individual to actually be worth a few million dollars. We continued the case to conclusion. We were also very happy with the financial background examinations you conducted of the former directors of two failed national banks. The heart of any civil case is whether there is a pot at the end of the lawsuit. You were our lucky leprechaun in finding such pots.”

“Joe spends the time to understand the problem from the client’s perspective and from the legal perspective. He is intelligent, tenacious, willing to work as hard as it takes, thorough, well-informed, and just awfully good at what he does.”

Thomas E. Root, 
Attorney

2014-11-11T18:20:05+00:00

Thomas E. Root, 
Attorney

“Joe spends the time to understand the problem from the client’s perspective and from the legal perspective. He is intelligent, tenacious, willing to work as hard as it takes, thorough, well-informed, and just awfully good at what he does.”

“Joe Dickerson is the industry standard. You can measure the rest by what he does, and I say that without equivocation. Joe has incredible insight into the dark world of fraud. He understands the devious ways in which people perpetrate white-collar crime.”

Jan Schlichtman
, Attorney at Law

2014-11-11T18:20:55+00:00

Jan Schlichtman
, Attorney at Law

“Joe Dickerson is the industry standard. You can measure the rest by what he does, and I say that without equivocation. Joe has incredible insight into the dark world of fraud. He understands the devious ways in which people perpetrate white-collar crime.”

“Joe is the most competent investigator I’ve ever found. He has rare ability to find hidden assets. Others claim it, Joe has it. He understands the Rules of Evidence, he knows how to talk to people to develop a fact pattern, and he has a sixth sense for fraud. Joe has unquestioned integrity and delivers value for his services.”

Andrew Quiat
, Attorney

2014-11-11T18:12:51+00:00

Andrew Quiat
, Attorney

“Joe is the most competent investigator I’ve ever found. He has rare ability to find hidden assets. Others claim it, Joe has it. He understands the Rules of Evidence, he knows how to talk to people to develop a fact pattern, and he has a sixth sense for fraud. Joe has unquestioned integrity and delivers value for his services.”