Monday, December 15, 2008

Internet Scam Series – Using the internet safely (Source – SEC)

How to Use the Internet to Invest Wisely

If you want to invest wisely and steer clear of frauds, you must get the facts. Never, ever, make an investment based solely on what you read in an online newsletter or bulletin board posting, especially if the investment involves a small, thinly-traded company that isn't well known. And don't even think about investing on your own in small companies that don't file regular reports with the SEC, unless you are willing to investigate each company thoroughly and to check the truth of every statement about the company. For instance, you'll need to:

  • get financial statements from the company and be able to analyze them;
  • verify the claims about new product developments or lucrative contracts;
  • call every supplier or customer of the company and ask if they really do business with the company; and
  • check out the people running the company and find out if they've ever made money for investors before.

And it doesn't stop there. For a more detailed list of questions you'll need to ask – and have answered – read Ask Questions. And always watch out for tell-tale signs of fraud.

Here's how you can use the internet to help you invest wisely:

Start With the SEC's EDGAR Database

The federal securities laws require many public companies to register with the SEC and file annual reports containing audited financial statements. For example, the following companies must file reports with the SEC:

  • All U.S. companies with more than 500 investors and $10 million in net assets; and
  • All companies that list their securities on The Nasdaq Stock Market or a major national stock exchange such as the New York Stock Exchange.

Anyone can access and download these reports from the SEC's EDGAR database for free. Before you invest in a company, check to see whether it's registered with the SEC and read its reports.

But some companies don't have to register their securities or file reports on EDGAR. For example, companies raising less than $5 million in a 12-month period may be exempt from registering the transaction under a rule known as "Regulation A." Instead, these companies must file a hard copy of the "offering circular" with the SEC containing financial statements and other information. Also, smaller companies raising less than one million dollars don't have to register with the SEC, but they must file a "Form D." Form D is a brief notice which includes the names and addresses of owners and stock promoters, but little other information. If you can't find a company on EDGAR, call the SEC at (202) 551-8090 to find out if the company filed an offering circular under Regulation A or a Form D. And be sure to request a copy.

The difference between investing in companies that register with the SEC and those that don't is like the difference between driving on a clear sunny day and driving at night without your headlights. You're asking for serious losses if you invest in small, thinly-traded companies that aren't widely known just by following the signs you read on Internet bulletin boards or online newsletters.

Contact Your State Securities Regulators

Don't stop with the SEC. You should always check with your state securities regulator, which you can find on the website of the North American Securities Administrators Association, to see if they have more information about the company and the people behind it. They can check the Central Registration Depository (CRD) and tell you whether the broker touting the stock or the broker's firm has a disciplinary history. They can also tell you whether they've cleared the offering for sale in your state.

Check with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)

To check the disciplinary history of the broker or firm that's touting the stock, use FINRA's BrokerCheck website, or call FINRA's BrokerCheck Program hotline at (800) 289-9999.

Online Investment Fraud:
New Medium, Same Old Scam

The types of investment fraud seen online mirror the frauds perpetrated over the phone or through the mail. Remember that fraudsters can use a variety of Internet tools to spread false information, including bulletin boards, online newsletters, spam, or chat (including Internet Relay Chat or Web Page Chat). They can also build a glitzy, sophisticated web page. All of these tools cost very little money and can be found at the fingertips of fraudsters.

Consider all offers with skepticism. Investment frauds usually fit one of the following categories:

The "Pump And Dump" Scam

It's common to see messages posted online that urge readers to buy a stock quickly or tell you to sell before the price goes down. Often the writers will claim to have "inside" information about an impending development or to use an "infallible" combination of economic and stock market data to pick stocks. In reality, they may be insiders or paid promoters who stand to gain by selling their shares after the stock price is pumped up by gullible investors. Once these fraudsters sell their shares and stop hyping the stock, the price typically falls and investors lose their money. Fraudsters frequently use this ploy with small, thinly-traded companies because it's easier to manipulate a stock when there's little or no information available about the company.

The Pyramid

Be wary of messages that read: "How To Make Big Money From Your Home Computer!!!" One online promoter claimed that investors could "turn $5 into $60,000 in just three to six weeks." In reality, this program was nothing more than an electronic version of the classic "pyramid" scheme in which participants attempt to make money solely by recruiting new participants into the program.

The "Risk-Free" Fraud

"Exciting, Low-Risk Investment Opportunities" to participate in exotic-sounding investments – such as wireless cable projects, prime bank securities, and eel farms – have been offered through the Internet. But no investment is risk-free. And sometimes the investment products touted do not even exist – they're merely scams. Be wary of opportunities that promise spectacular profits or "guaranteed" returns. If the deal sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Off-shore Frauds

At one time, off-shore schemes targeting U.S. investors cost a great deal of money and were difficult to carry out. Conflicting time zones, differing currencies, and the high costs of international telephone calls and overnight mailings made it difficult for fraudsters to prey on U.S. residents. But the Internet has removed those obstacles. Be extra careful when considering any investment opportunity that comes from another country, because it's difficult for U.S. law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute foreign frauds.

The SEC Is Tracking Fraud

The SEC actively investigates allegations of Internet investment fraud and, in many cases, has taken quick action to stop scams. We've also coordinated with federal and state criminal authorities to put Internet fraudsters in jail. Here's a sampling of recent cases in which the SEC took action to fight Internet fraud:

Francis A. Tribble and Sloane Fitzgerald, Inc. sent more than six million unsolicited e-mails, built bogus web sites, and distributed an online newsletter over a ten-month period to promote two small, thinly traded "microcap" companies. Because they failed to tell investors that the companies they were touting had agreed to pay them in cash and securities, the SEC sued both Tribble and Sloane to stop them from violating the law again and imposed a $15,000 penalty on Tribble. Their massive spamming campaign triggered the largest number of complaints to the SEC's online Enforcement Complaint Center.

Charles O. Huttoe and twelve other defendants secretly distributed to friends and family nearly 42 million shares of Systems of Excellence Inc., known by its ticker symbol "SEXI." Huttoe drove up the price of SEXI shares through false press releases claiming non-existent multi-million dollar sales, an acquisition that had not occurred, and revenue projections that had no basis in reality. He also bribed co-defendant SGA Goldstar to tout SEXI to subscribers of SGA Goldstar's online "Whisper Stocks" newsletter. The SEC obtained court orders freezing Huttoe's assets and those of various others who participated in the scheme or who received fraud proceeds. Six people, including Huttoe and Theodore R. Melcher, Jr., the author of the online newsletter, were also convicted of criminal violations. Both Huttoe and Melcher were sentenced to federal prison. The SEC has thus far recovered approximately $11 million in illegal profits from the various defendants.

Matthew Bowin recruited investors for his company, Interactive Products and Services, in a direct public offering done entirely over the Internet. He raised $190,000 from 150 investors. But instead of using the money to build the company, Bowin pocketed the proceeds and bought groceries and stereo equipment. The SEC sued Bowin in a civil case, and the Santa Cruz, CA District Attorney's Office prosecuted him criminally. He was convicted of 54 felony counts and sentenced to 10 years in jail.

IVT Systems solicited investments to finance the construction of an ethanol plant in the Dominican Republic. The Internet solicitations promised a return of 50% or more with no reasonable basis for the prediction. Their literature contained lies about contracts with well known companies and omitted other important information for investors. After the SEC filed a complaint, they agreed to stop breaking the law.

Gene Block and Renate Haag were caught offering "prime bank" securities, a type of security that doesn't even exist. They collected over $3.5 million by promising to double investors' money in four months. The SEC has frozen their assets and stopped them from continuing their fraud.

Daniel Odulo was stopped from soliciting investors for a proposed eel farm. Odulo promised investors a "whopping 20% return," claiming that the investment was "low risk." When he was caught by the SEC, he consented to the court order stopping him from breaking the securities laws.

If you believe that you have been the victim of a securities-related fraud, through the Internet or otherwise, or if you believe that any person or entity may have violated or is currently violating the federal securities laws, you can submit a complaint using our online complaint form or email us at enforcement@sec.gov.

 

Source:  US Security and Exchange Commission

1 comment:

Mberenis said...

That's a great blog! Good Job!

<---<---<---<---<---
Free Internet Speed Test
--->--->--->--->--->

Add to Technorati Favorites