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AZ Regulators Warn Against Oil/Gas Finance Fraud

Noting $100,000 in penalties it assessed to a multi-firm operator for fraudulent oil/natural gas investments in the state earlier in the week, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) Thursday issued a warning to consumers to beware of scam artists trying to take advantage of volatile and sometimes skyrocketing prices for the two energy commodities. The state's chief utility and business regulatory panel jointly circulated an "investor alert" from the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA).

Over the past two years, state securities regulators in Arizona have opened more than 260 cases involving oil and gas-related schemes and have issued 122 cease-and-desist orders against promoters, according to a Phoenix-based ACC spokesperson.

Although oil prices have fallen since reaching their all-time highs last year, fraudulent oil/gas deals remain a favorite ploy of con artists nationwide, according to NASAA and the ACC. The pair are warning consumers against "slippery deals."

"Investing in commodities like oil and gas deals, precious metals or minerals can be legitimate for people who understand and can afford the risks," said ACC Chairman Jeff Hatch-Miller in a statement. "But too often we are seeing doubtful and even outright fraudulent energy deals aggressively promoted to the public."

Commissioners directed wary investors to check out details of their recent action ordering full restitution and $100,000 in penalties for three companies operated by Gary Milby for offering what the regulators determined were fraudulent oil/gas investments in Arizona. Details, as well as the ACC warning, are posted on an investor education website (www.azinvestor.gov) provided by the ACC's securities division.

"Scam artists tend to target individual victims and make an unsolicited contact, usually with a phone call, offering a 'get in on the ground floor' or 'urgent' business opportunity," said ACC Commissioner Kris Mayes.

The bottom line, the ACC said, is that prospective investors need to "tread very carefully" before buying into an oil, gas or minerals deal.

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