The growth of the Internet and increased disclosure requirements for businesses and individuals has unleashed a vast amount of information that was previously semi- private into the public domain. Aside from the significant efficiency and transparency gains, this information has been a bonanza for scam artists and fraudsters as the number of potential targets for these criminals has expanded exponentially. Unfortunately, our firm’s corporate identity has been a victim of this trend and our current efforts have not been able stem the abuse.
Many years ago there was a Wall Street brokerage firm that shared the name “Laidlaw” though the founder was no direct family relation. This firm enjoyed a solid reputation as a broker dealer and investment management firm. Over the years, however, the name has been usurped by another broker dealer uses the Laidlaw name and employs extremely aggressive sales techniques. Based on feedback that we receive through the phone and email, it appears that some of the brokers that work for this firm are telling their existing or prospective clients that they actually work for our company, Laidlaw Group, and not the other “Laidlaw.”
Typically, we receive complaints from individuals that representatives from the rouge Laidlaw have pitched their investment products to these individuals over the phone. The complainants usually ask us to tell so and so from our company to stop harassing them with phone calls. One complaint received through our website indicated that the prospective client “did not appreciate being called a (insert profane term for male anatomy) when I state that I am not interested in the call at this point.”
The level of fraud appears to have increased in intensity recently. One of Laidlaw’s brokers, directed a prospective hire to list that she worked for both Laidlaw & Company and our firm on her LinkedIn (professional social networking site widely used throughout the country) profile. Needless to say, no such person has ever worked with our firm. Unscrupulous brokers are using our transparent business model and clean compliance history to engender confidence in them and in turn to sell their investment products to the Laidlaw’s customers.
Our efforts to stop this continuing corporate identity theft have been unsuccessful. Our industry group, the Investment Adviser Association, put me in contact with someone at the SEC who works in the inspection office. This individual indicated that his only recourse has been to work with the United Kingdom’s regulator, the Financial Service Authority, to end the impersonation. As of this writing, nothing has happened, even though a case has been opened at the SEC for the past two years or so.
We are contemplating changing our company name. This measure would prevent the other firm from continuing to tarnish our reputation. So if we send out a notice that we have a new name and brand, it is not because I am not proud of having my name on the door. Rather, it may be a more elegant solution than spending countless hours in time and legal fees to force the fraudulent Laidlaw to cease and desist.