Massachusetts regulators have taken legal action against Metals.com for allegedly convincing seniors to invest millions of dollars of retirement savings into overpriced precious metals.
A Quartz investigation linked the company with a web of Facebook ads and websites that specifically target conservative retirees. Dozens of the company’s clients across the country have lost large chunks of their savings, swayed by a high-pressure sales pitch warning of doom-and-gloom economic scenarios.
The securities division of the Massachusetts secretary of state, according to the complaint, alleges that Metals.com “engaged in fraud” and also violated state law by acting as an unregistered investment advisor and by making “a materially false or misleading filing” to Massachusetts investigators.
A statement from Metals.com said “Metals.com looks forward to responding to these unwarranted and unproven allegations in the appropriate forum.”
Massachusetts authorities found six residents who purchased $3.2 million in precious metals through Metals.com’s parent company, TMTE. Each investor lost more than half of their savings, 53-63% of the total value of their investment, in a single stroke. The state securities division did not respond to a request for comment.
One couple, a 64-year-old physician and a 58-year-old nurse, invested nearly $3 million of their savings with the company. “In less than two months, TMTE facilitated two transactions that robbed Investors One and Two of their retirement savings,” the complaint says.
“TMTE used $2,797,346 of Investor One and Two’s retirement savings to purchase silver, which represented all of Investors One and Two’s retirement savings. The resulting market value of the silver was $1,286,005.56,” it says.
Metals.com pitched the couple on purchasing coins that were ostensibly collectible, according to the Massachusetts order. But what it sold them were not rare: 49,961 “Polar Bear and Cub” silver coins. The Royal Canadian Mint, which creates the coins, says it does so in unlimited quantities to meet demand. In its statement to Quartz, Metals.com pointed out that “silver, by its very nature is finite, not unlimited.”
The company’s own documents say that customers should not invest more than 20% of their funds in precious metals. But according to the complaint, Metals.com, on its own, chose to transfer the entire value of the couples’ retirement accounts to precious metals—even though the couple had only agreed to spend a smaller amount on gold and silver. They didn’t discover that all of their retirement assets had been spent until three months afterward.
Former employees and business associates described the company as a boiler-room operation, where the salespeople are obsessed with money and becoming millionaires.
The Massachusetts complaint only mentions two of the company’s employees, Jonathan Sachs and David Bleeden. Neither responded to a request for comment.
The complaint does not detail exactly how the Massachusetts customers connected with the company, although it mentions that several of them found it online. Quartz was able to link at least $3 million’s worth of Facebook ads to the company. The ads posed as notices from fictional US government agencies like the non-existent “US Retirement Bureau” or claimed an affiliation with Fox News, ostensibly to elicit a positive association in the ads’ target audience, conservative seniors. Fox News told Quartz it had no affiliation with the company.
In response to an email requesting comment about the Massachusetts allegation, company leader Lucas Asher didn’t address the Massachusetts allegation, but said in apparent reference to Quartz stories characterizing him as a company leader: “I am not an employee at metals. I do not conduct any sales at metals. I do not run any marketing at metals. I am not on the board of directors at metals. I am not a manager at their company. I don’t personally own their brand.” Salespeople told Quartz that Asher was one of two men in charge of the company and that he often led the sales team’s morning meeting. The company’s sales manager credited Asher in internal chat messages with having “built a system where you can intercept money.”
Several other state regulators have issued the company cease-and-desist orders for illegally offering investment advice, among other accusations.
Despite the ongoing state regulatory actions, Metals.com has continued operation.
The precious metals industry is barely regulated in the United States, especially on the federal level, so it has fallen to states and cities to police shady gold-and-silver schemes.
Massachusetts is asking the court to impose a number of penalties on Metals.com, including providing restitution to the investors, requiring the company to disgorge profits from the alleged wrongdoing, and paying a fine.