Phoney offshore investments. Unregistered sources. Deceptive online advertising. These are among the top five risks that investors need to avoid in 2017, says the provincial securities regulator.

The Alberta Securities Commission (ASC) says its annual list, released on Tuesday, is based on information compiled by the enforcement team and its public inquiries office.

ASC's top five investor risks for 2017:

1) Unregistered sources:

Anyone selling securities in Alberta, with only a few exceptions, must be registered. This helps protect investors, since "securities regulators will only register firms and individuals that meet certain proficiency, integrity and solvency requirements," the ASC said in a release.

Investors can check the registration of a person offering securities investments for free at www.aretheyregistered.ca

2) Binary options scams:

These are essentially bets on whether the value of an asset will increase or decrease in a fixed time frame. The ASC says the average Albertan, who falls prey to these scams, loses more than $20,000. 

There are no registered binary options dealers in Alberta or Canada. "Binary options companies invest a lot of money into advertising designed to lure investors, which may appear attractive given Alberta's current economic downturn," the ASC said.

3) Offshore investments:

The ASC says being asked to send money to companies with supposed offices in foreign countries should always trigger a red flag.

"When investors send their money overseas and something goes wrong, it can be difficult or impossible to get the money back, and unfortunately regulators and agencies in Alberta can do little to help," the ASC said.

4) Deceptive online advertising:

Scammers frequently use social media, pop-up adds on websites and even text messages to promote their fraudulent schemes, the ASC said. Fake celebrity endorsements are often used to convince investors that the scams are legitimate.

5) The 'next big thing':

Don't be fooled by hype surrounding something that's being touted as an emerging industry, the ASC said. A lack of information about new companies can make it easy for scammers to spread false information.

"Be aware that stocks in emerging industries are highly speculative," the ASC said. 

'Just another type of theft'

Ken Parker, a former director of capital markets with the ASC, says people always need to be on the lookout for fraudsters, whether times are good or the economy is in a downturn.

"There have always been people out there who think the best way for them to make money is to steal someone else's money," he said. "And investment fraud is really just another type of theft."

Many investment scammers get away with their cons because victims don't report them, Parker said.

"They usually count on the fact that people, when they recognize that they've been a victim of fraud, that they're embarrassed," he said.

It makes it more difficult for regulators, such as the securities commission or for the police, to investigate. Because even if they hear about it, they hear about one case, one victim, when in fact there may have been dozens or hundreds of victims."