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Your First Investment

You've opened a brokerage account. Now what?

If you're like a lot of folks, you freeze and let your money languish in the money market sweep.

Not everyone is comfortable taking the leap and committing those dollars to stocks. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people preying on investor insecurities. And, boy, do they have the sales pitch down pat.

How can you tell if an investment pitch is a scam? Here are six tell-all signs:

1) The promise of "Low risk and high gain." Click your heels three times and repeat to yourself, "There is no such thing as a free lunch. There is no such thing as a free lunch." It is a fundamental fact of investing that the higher potential return, the higher the risk that you may never see that return.

2) Warnings that it will be "too late" if you don't act now. Why will it be too late? Any legitimate investment will be there tomorrow and next week and next year. Never be pressured into investing in something because tomorrow may be too late.

3) Predictions of the future. "It will double in three months." Oh, yeah? Since when did they start marketing crystal balls? Not only is this a ridiculous promise for a broker to make, it's illegal. Also, any broker who guarantees a rate of performance will get tossed out of the industry. Don't throw your money after him or her.

4) Failing the background check. Any individual selling securities - as well as his employer -- to the public must pass a background check, a series of examinations, and be registered with the NASD. If you would like to check up on the background of your broker or his brokerage firm, use the NASD's information request page.

5) No prospectus or financial statements. If it's a new company that is just going public (an IPO, which stands for initial public offering) you must be given a prospectus. If the company has been around a while, ask to see the financial statements for the past two years. If you need help understanding them, check out our online How-To Guides on reading financial statements.

6) A "hot inside tip." This is especially important to pay attention to -- not because it could make you rich, but because it could land YOU in jail sharing a cell with Martha. It is illegal to pass on or act on material that is inside information. Anyone telling you otherwise is a liar.

Don't let the thought of predators deter your resolve to invest. Fool analysts have a wealth of great investing ideas that are handily beating the market. Check out a few free reports. Just don't let your money languish because you're too timid to get the right kind of help.

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