Millions of ­investors trust financial advisors with their nest eggs. But how do you determine whether it’s wise to rely on the advisor you’re considering…or even the one you’re working with?

Past problems can point to future danger. Enter a broker’s name into ­ to see if his/her history includes any “disclosures” of complaints relating to account mismanagement or related issues. If a broker isn’t listed in ­BrokerCheck: He/she may not be licensed, in which case you may not want to trust him with your money. It also might mean that he is an investment advisor, not a broker—in that case, BrokerCheck should steer you to an SEC or state regulatory website. Note: Some registered investment advisors are not required to register with the SEC.

New-account documents could contain a red flag. Clients sign a stack of documents when they agree to work with a financial pro. One document describes you as an investor—your risk tolerance, investment objectives and experience. If it describes you as more experienced or risk-tolerant than you are, that could be a warning that the pro plans to push you into aggressive investments.

Beware strategies that benefit the pro more than you. Some advisors are fans of variable annuities, private placements, self-directed IRAs and trading on margin—and for good reason. These often generate hefty commissions for the pros themselves but don’t make sense for most investors. Exception: If an hourly or flat-fee advisor recommends a variable annuity, there is less risk that it is being sold to you under false pretenses.

Size matters. Work with a big well-known brokerage company or an investment advisor whose firm has at least $1 billion under management. Large companies devote resources to supervision and compliance…and if accounts are mishandled, bigger firms have resources to refund clients’ losses.

If you work with an independent financial advisor: Just because you receive statements from a big investment company such as Fidelity or Schwab does not mean that your broker works for that company. As the “custodian,” that large, recognizable company might just be handling the broker’s trades. It may be challenging to force the custodial firm to pay for the independent broker’s misconduct. If your broker is registered with a big financial company, it will be referenced on his BrokerCheck listing.

If you suspect your broker is ripping you off: Contact a lawyer who specializes in investment fraud. These attorneys almost always work on contingency. Ask for a referral from your trusted advisors, such as your lawyer, accountant or tax preparer. Be sure to hire a law firm that has many years of experience devoted to this practice area and has the resources to level the playing field against Wall Street.

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