The number of Canadians seeking advice from an Osgoode Hall Law School free legal clinic for wronged investors has more than doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Osgoode Investor Protection Clinic (IPC) completed 57 intake interviews between May 1, 2020 and April 30, 2021, which is up from 18 in the same period last year, according to the clinic’s newly released 2021 Annual Report.
“The pandemic has created a perfect storm of market volatility and isolation that has contributed to a significant increase in the number of potentially fraudulent cases,” said Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Poonam Puri, the clinic’s academic director.
The first of its kind in Canada, the Osgoode Investor Protection Clinic was launched in 2016 to provide pro-bono legal advice to people who believe their investments were mishandled and who cannot afford a lawyer. The clinic pairs 14 second- and third-year Osgoode juris doctor students with supervising lawyers from leading business law firms in Ontario.
Puri and the clinic’s team documented an uptick in complaints from people who saw their investments decline and not recover with the market, prompting clients to question whether the investment products and advice were suitable. The cases were often exacerbated by physical distancing and quarantine measures that left investors cut off from trusted sources and vulnerable to unsuitable and high-risk investment products.
Among their growing case load, the IPC students assisted several low-income clients who were left with substantial debt after their advisers inappropriately recommended that they borrow to invest – a practice called leveraged loans. There was also a prevalence of cases involving affinity fraud, often targeting immigrant groups that identify with the fraudster based on a shared ethnicity, culture, language and/or religion.
“Our team continues to work very hard to respond to the increasing number of retail investor concerns,” said Puri.
The IPC is currently open and conducting virtual intake interviews. Everyone who brings forward a complaint receives an interview, although not every file is selected for representation.
In addition to frontline client support, the IPC works to prevent losses before they happen. The Retail Investors Guide to COVID-19 provides a list of dos and don’ts for retail investors, and highlights common scams related to COVID-19, including get-rich-quick schemes and investment products marketed as “higher returns with no extra risk.”