In an effort to crack down on fraud via pump-and-dump scams and reverse mergers, the Securities and Exchange Commission is suspending trading in the securities of 379 Microcap companies that are dormant. This is the most number of companies to have trading in them suspended in one day.
As part of its heightened efforts to combat microcap shell company-related fraud, The SEC’s Microcap Fraud Working Group employed Operation Shell-Expel, which employed different agency resources to pinpoint shell companies in 6 other countries and 32 US states that were dormant and vulnerable to scams. SEC Division Director Robert Khuzami said that “empty shell companies” are to certain financial scammers “what guns are to bank robbers.”
According to the SEC, stock manipulators are willing to pay up to $750,000 to get control of a company so they can pump and dump the stock to make illegal gains while investors suffer. Now, however, because the trading suspension mandates that current financial formation must be provided, these shell companies can no longer be used by fraudsters to perpetuate their scams.
Securities laws let the SEC suspend trading in any stock for 10 days maximum. Barring exemptions and exceptions, a company whose trading privileges have been suspended can’t be quoted again unless it issues update information, including financial statements that are accurate.
The SEC chooses to suspend trading in a stock when it feels that to do so will protect investors. In an Investor Alert, the Commission listed some of the reasons for suspending trading, including:
• Insufficient or not the most up-to-date or accurate information about a company, including no current periodic report filings.
• Existing questions about whether information made available to the public is accurate, including the most current details about a company’s operational status, business transactions, or financial state.
• Potential issues over the trading in the stock, such as possible market manipulation and insider trading.
Because the SEC knows that suspending trading in a stock can cause the security’s price to dramatically go down, it is very discriminating about issuing suspensions.
Microcap companies usually have low-priced stock, which trades in low volumes, and limited assets. A pump-and-dump scam is one of the most common types of securities fraud involving these firms. Scammers will issue misleading and false statements to promote a microcap stock that is lightly traded. After buying low and then inflating the stock price by making it appear as if there is a lot of market activity, fraudsters will dump the stock by selling it into the market at the higher rate and make huge profits in the process.
Investor Bulletins: Trading Suspension, SEC (PDF)
SEC Microcap Fraud-Fighting Initiative Expels 379 Dormant Shell Companies to Protect Investors From Potential Scams, SEC, May 14, 2012
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Business Man Pleads Guilty Plea in Florida Microcap Market Fraud Case, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, November 17, 2010
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