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Alberta Securities Commission 'sting' operation highlights fraud prevention

CALGARY — It appeared to be the perfect scam.

About two dozen potential investors attended a lunchtime seminar at a downtown Calgary hotel ballroom last month and were promised they would learn to "profit like the experts" through real estate investment.

British-born financier Jonathan Fisher bounded onto the stage to discuss investing in his company, Maplestock Investments.

"Who among you here today wants to have a worry-free retirement? That's an easy question," said Fisher, who raised his hand along with many in the audience.

"I'm so confident of what I'm about to tell you today, I'm willing to guarantee you a return on your investment."

But the whole seminar was a publicity stunt staged by the Alberta Securities Commission to draw attention to Fraud Prevention Month.

Maplestock Investments does not exist nor does Jonathan Fisher. An actor was hired to play the financial guru.

"We did a lot of research into what makes something or someone more trustworthy, so we chose an actor with short brown hair. We even determined the colour of his tie," said Alison Trollope, the commission's director of communications and investor education.

"There's actually a font considered to be the most trustworthy font, and so we put a lot of research that's readily available on line about what is trustworthy."

Trollope said the seminar was sprinkled with red flags in advertisements placed on Facebook, Eventbrite, Craig's List and Kijiji and in Google display ads and home-delivered flyers.

"The tagline of the event was 'Profit Like the Experts' and that is one of the red flags you see at so many investment seminars. If someone is profiting through a unique system or method, why are they sharing it with you?"

The event advertisements were viewed by Albertans nearly six million times and more than 8,500 potential investors took the extra step to click on the ads that promoted the campaign.

Trollope said the fake financier and his company weren't registered with the Alberta Securities Commission and investors should have been suspicious about what he was promising.

"We promised high rates of return with low or no risk. Jonathan Fisher was promising people 10 to 12 per cent return, which, when the bank is going to give you one per cent for a guaranteed return, you have to wonder how that could be and if it's too good to be true."

The seminar went for about 15 minutes before the organizers told the audience members they had been hand.

Trollope had no doubt that some people were ready to sign up.

"One of the attendees shared with me there were a couple of guys at his table at the outset very interested in this investment, and they were planning on making an investment that day if all went well at the seminar."

The ASC is the regulatory agency responsible for administering Alberta's securities laws.

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

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