February 24, 2012
A few months ago, I published Fake Securities Regulators Scam Investors ("Street Sweeper" December 5, 2011), in which I detailed the problem of "phantom regulators," who were being used to defraud investors. In that article, I noted:
As the markets enter the last month of 2011, investors tend to consult with their brokers and accountants about year-end tax moves, including how best to handle tax losses. Knowing of these considerations, con artists often use this time of year to go into high gear with their up-front fee scams.
If you are contacted during the next few weeks with just such an opportunity to turn your stock losses into riches, slow down before you send any up-front fees to expedite this bonanza. Moreover, if you're directed to a third-party's website for assurance, make sure that there's more substance to that purported organization and its website than there was to the guaranteed profits in the worthless stock you're now stuck with. . .
Well, guess what? Looks like my instincts were pretty much on the money.
Ah, yes, football season is over, the abridged NBA season is at midway, spring training for baseball is starting, and it's crazy season on Wall Street.
The Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") just posted an Investor Alert with the intriguing title: "SEC Warns of Government Impersonators." According to the Investor Alert, there has been a:
recent surge of complaints about a scheme where fraudsters posing as SEC employees call potential victims on the telephone and purport to offer them a large sum of money (in some cases, the amount of $450,000 is used) in return for depositing a smaller amount (for example, $1,500) into a specified account. Some of these solicitations may use the name of a legitimate company and refer prospective investors to an operating website. These solicitations, whether made by telephone, email, or other method, are fraudulent.
You'd think that it would go without saying that the SEC doesn't call folks up and offer to pay them money for nothing - except, well, you know, there's always some idiot out there who hasn't quite figured that out. Sorry but whenever I hear these stories about how easily some people are duped by the mere mention of "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you," it gets my blood boiling.
Of course, while I'm on this rampage against stupidity, let me offer my own public service announcement: If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from a state or federal government organization - FBI, SEC, FTC, FCC, CFTC, whatever alphabet soup of initials they offer - be wary, very wary, if the words prize, winnings, lottery, sweepstakes, or gift comes out of their mouths. It ain't happening! If you want to gamble, why don't you buy SDS , SSO, FAS, or FAZ?
In trying to warn off the overly trusting and easily duped among us, the SEC admonishes in the Investor Alert that:
SEC staff will not, for example, contact individuals by telephone or email for purposes of:
seeking assistance with a fund transfer;
forwarding investment offers to them;
advising individuals that they own certain securities;
telling investors that they are eligible to receive disbursements from an investor claims fund or class action settlement; or
offering grants or other financial assistance (especially for an upfront fee).
SEC staff do not make these types of unsolicited communications, including emails or telephone calls, asking for detailed personal and financial information, such as shareholdings and PIN numbers. If you receive a telephone call or email from somebody claiming to be from the SEC (or another government agency), always verify the person's identity. Use the SEC's personnel locator, (202) 551-6000, to verify whether the caller is an SEC staff member and to speak with him or her directly. You also can ask whether the person calling you is employed by the SEC and request to speak with the staff member's supervisor if there is such an employee. In addition, you can call the SEC at (800) SEC-0330 for general information. . .