Jennifer Josephs has learned about investing the hard way. Back in 1988, she reaped more than $1 million from the sale of some Las Vegas property. She sank about $800,000 into a stock portfolio. Six years and four brokers later, her nest egg is worth about $370,000.

Why the poor record? She charges, and her trading records suggest, that four separate brokers excessively traded her account, often in risky investments, and made trades without approval. "I was ripe for the picking--someone with a lot of money and no experience," says Josephs, 44, who owns a successful real estate development and management firm in Las Vegas.

Navete was her undoing. After she agreed to let a Shearson Lehman Brothers Inc. broker trade on her behalf, the broker made $100,000 worth of stock purchases against her wishes. Her brokers also made big trades on margin, maximizing commissions and interest income for the firms. In 1992, for instance, Josephs paid trading commissions of $20,134 and margin interest of $18,124. Her profits on all of this trading: $2,153. Smith Barney, which bought Shearson, declined to comment.

To avoid such hefty commissions, Josephs switched to a discount brokerage house. However, her new broker soon started trading excessively--and without authorization--in over-the-counter stocks in which the firm was a market maker. For instance, the broker bought $120,000 worth of two stocks without Josephs' authorization, and they are down an average of 30%. Having lost one arbitration against a brokerage firm, she has been too discouraged to file any new complaints. "The more you have, the more they take advantage of you," she believes. Today, Josephs is wiser but a lot less rich.

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