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If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

Have you been invited by someone you know through social media to join a group so you can get in on a “guaranteed great investment opportunity”? Before you turn over your hard-earned money, read on for information from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on how to recognize and report investment fraud and financial scams. Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) spoke with the SEC’s Charu Chandrasekhar and Owen Donley.

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HHF: When and how did you become aware that investment schemes and fraud are a problem within Deaf and hearing loss communities?

Chandrasekhar: Historically, the SEC’s Enforcement Division has brought cases where large investment fraud schemes targeted individuals in Deaf and hearing loss communities as victims of fraud. We have a strong interest in encouraging investors to understand what to look out for, and importantly from an enforcement perspective, to report suspicious investment schemes and professionals.

HHF: Can you describe how Deaf and hearing loss communities may be targets of fraud?

Chandrasekhar: The tactics we’ve seen include fraudsters soliciting investors by posing as, or recruiting people from, trusted parts of social networks like family, friends, or community members. We’re also aware that some fraudsters take advantage of the use of social media within these communities to target potential victims who may be socially isolated in other ways. The Deaf and hearing loss communities overlap with many of the other groups on which we’re also focused, such as seniors, active military, and veterans. Some fraudsters may view members of these groups as vulnerable to their tactics. 

Donley: Yes, unfortunately, fraudsters may be, or pretend to be, part of a group that they’re trying to take advantage of by using a common bond to build trust. When fraudsters target victims based on their membership in a group or community, we refer to it as “affinity fraud.” Our office has an Affinity Fraud section on the Investor.gov website. It’s only natural to want to trust someone with whom you have something in common, but that’s exactly what fraudsters are counting on. 

Even if you know the person offering you an investment opportunity, check out the person’s background and be sure the person is a currently registered investment professional. You can easily find this information by typing the person’s name into the red search box on Investor.gov. It’s a great first step to protecting your money.

HHF: Can you share some of the main warning signs that individuals should be looking for when they’re approached with investment possibilities?

Donley: A guaranteed high investment return is a hallmark of fraud. High returns generally involve high risk. If someone guarantees you astronomical returns with no risk, the person is lying. Investors should remember that if an investment sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Investors should be wary of unregistered or unlicensed sellers and high-pressure sales tactics. Finally, investors should be skeptical if they are asked to use a credit card or wire money abroad to invest.  

HHF: What if you’re asked to join an investment group, whether online or in person, and told that time is running out on your chance to be part of the investment?

Donley: Often fraudsters claim to have limited opportunities available or limited time left to make you feel like you’re at risk of missing out. You should take the time to do your own independent research of the investment opportunity and should not feel rushed into making these types of important decisions.

Chandrasekhar: Whenever you’re considering an investment or have chosen to invest, keep detailed records of your communications. Save emails, marketing materials, and statements, and make notes of your conversations. These may be helpful to you if you report potential misconduct to the SEC.

HHF: How can investors figure out whom to trust?

Donley: I can’t tell you whom to trust, but I can tell you whom not to trust. If anyone offering you an investment misrepresents his or her background, steer clear. You can use the tools on Investor.gov to see if the seller is currently registered and if the seller has any disciplinary history.

Chandrasekhar: Bottom line: If you’re offered an investment opportunity, or hear about a friend or loved one who is getting solicited to make an investment—and if anything about the investment or the seller seems too good to be true or doesn’t seem quite right—please report it to the SEC. 

This article originally ran in the Fall 2019 issue of Hearing Health magazine. Charu Chandrasekhar is the chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Retail Strategy Task Force. Owen Donley is the chief counsel of the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy. For references, including direct links to report fraud and to read press releases about prior cases, see hhf.org/fall2019-references. The Securities and Exchange Commission disclaims responsibility for any private publication or statement of any SEC employee or Commissioner. This article expresses the authors’ views and does not necessarily reflect those of the Commission, the Commissioners, or other members of the staff.

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Close-Minded Captioning

By Amber Gordon

Sound can provide remarkable connections to the world around us. As a Longwood University communication sciences and disorders student, I’ve come to better understand how people with hearing loss experience sound, and that improvements to accessibility are urgently needed.

I have typical hearing, but know from Longwood professor Mani Aguilar, Au.D., that insufficient access to auditory information can have negative emotional and social consequences in many areas of life, including entertainment. Watching a TV show with a friend with typical hearing and not understanding why they are laughing is bound to make one feel left out.

While hearing aids and cochlear implants are extraordinarily beneficial to communication, many people with hearing loss rely on captioning to fully access audiovisual media. Because of its necessity, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires closed captioning for video transcripts by state and local government entities and “places of public accommodation” (including universities, libraries, and hotels). Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act require the electronic communications of U.S. federal offices and federally-funded organizations to be accessible and captioned. 

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For TV programs, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires TV captions to be “accurate, synchronous, complete, and properly placed.” The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act calls for “video programming that is closed captioned on TV to be closed captioned when distributed on the Internet.”

But there are no existing laws to address captioning in the majority of online video. This was brought to light when the National Association of the Deaf sued Netflix for the lack of closed captioning on videos on their site. The district judge ruled in favor of closed captioning on streaming services; however, because this was not a Supreme Court ruling, the case did not establish a national model for ADA’s standards for online services and businesses. 

Many streaming services do include closed captions within their video services with no stipulations for quality. As noted in HuffPost, the Netflix series Queer Eye had inaccurate captions that censored profanity and changed words being used in multiple instances. A Reddit user states that shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime, in general, do not signify who is talking when they are off-screen, creating confusion as to which character is saying what.  

Meanwhile, platforms like YouTube and Facebook remain unregulated. Enabling auto-captioning on videos is merely an option for video creators, and, in many cases, this auto-generated captioning is not accurate. For precise captions, video creators must make manual edits, which can be time-consuming or expensive. 

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Consider also that tone and verbal inflection can change the entire meaning of a sentence. Spoken words are just part of the piece the puzzle for those who rely on captions. According to The Atlantic, machine translation “can’t register sarcasm, context, or word emphasis. It can’t capture the cacophonous sounds of multiple voices speaking at once, essential for understanding the voice of an angry crowd of protestors or a cheering crowd. It just types what it registers.” 

We already have requirements for government programming and news alert systems. We have accessibility laws for television and even for some online content. But as entertainment becomes increasingly digital, these regulations must be transferable.

Otherwise, information remains lost in translation because captioning laws are only applicable to some circumstances. Isn’t access for everyone, regardless of hearing ability, enough reason to advocate for expanded captioning? Why must those with hearing loss be kept back by where we’ve drawn the line on accessibility?

If you are a hearing individual, I encourage you to place yourself in the shoes of someone with hearing loss. Mute your TV for a day. Mute the sound on your device playing YouTube or Facebook and enable closed captioning. How long does it take until you get annoyed? Frustrated? I’m willing to bet not very long. 

It is undeniable that closed captions have contributed greatly to the advancement of accessibility for people with hearing loss, but much work remains. We have to recognize the urgency of reliable captioning in online media.

What can we do? If you’re in a restaurant and notice that there are TVs playing without captions, politely request them. If you run a business where there are waiting rooms and lounges with televisions, please turn on captions. If you watch YouTube and notice that one of your favorite creators does not caption their videos, leave comments or write emails to encourage them. Hold streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime accountable by letting them know when captions are inaccurate or poorly transcribed. Lastly, if you’re watching television or your favorite show and you notice poor closed captioning, file a complaint to the Federal Communications Commission under the “Access for People with Disabilities” section of their Consumer Complaint Center. 

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Slowly but surely, if we continue to think of others who are unlike ourselves, strive for empathy and advocate for equal accessibility for all, a change can and will be made. 

Amber Gordon is an aspiring speech-language pathologist who lives in Virginia.

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