The SEC issued a formal alert nearly four months ago advising investors to be wary of fraudulent promoters targeting self-directed IRAs. The alert noted that a key difference between IRAs and self-directed IRAs is that while "most IRA custodians are banks and broker-dealers that limit the holdings in an IRA," self-directed IRAs offer investors the opportunity to put their "retirement funds in other types of assets, such as real estate, promissory notes, tax-lien certificates and private placement securities."

Self-directed IRAs have the potential to offer owners obscure but highly profitable opportunities. But they also come with unique risks, such as "a lack of disclosure and liquidity - as well as the risk of fraud," the SEC said.

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