NEWS AND RESOURCES

Stock Market News for September 2000

If It Sounds Too Good...

In the days of Adam and Eve, the choices were pretty simple - to eat or not to eat. Imagine what the snake would have offered if he had access to the Internet. What would have tempted Eve then - stylish underwear from www.fruit.com? Maybe, it would have been an iMac from www.apple.com? Perhaps, it would have been an investment in a fruit farm in Mexico that promised a 100% return in the first year. Our money is on the investment option. Yours should be too. Since the beginning of time, there have always been con artists trying to get a buck from unsuspecting marks. With the advance of our financial and technical knowledge, you would think that the incidence of people trying to steal from their fellows would decrease, but all we have accomplished is inventing new ways of stealing. In the past few years, there have been reports of Mafia involvement in fraudulent stock schemes. Investment newsletters purporting to be independent being paid to tout stocks and many people are receiving anonymous "stock alerts" on sure-fire deals. The only truth to most of these varied schemes is the promise that someone can lose most, if not all, of their life savings. Some of the more common schemes are:

  • "Pump and Dump" scams
  • The "Risk-Free" offer
  • Off-shore schemes
  • Ponzi schemes

The "Pump and Dump" scam has found a friend in online chat rooms and bulletin boards. The con artist will pick a thinly traded stock and talk it up on investment bulletin boards, urging readers to buy the stock before it "skyrockets." Many times, the thief will claim to have "inside" information or claim to have special knowledge of the industry, which virtually guarantees their investment pick is infallible. Once the con artist(s) stop selling their shares and talking up the stock, the price will typically fall back to where it was when the scam began. The result - the unsuspecting investors are taken for a ride. Anytime you see this type of discussion regarding a stock on a public bulletin board or in a chat room, be wary. It is illegal to trade on non-public inside information, so it is likely that the people involved in the discussion are violating the law to begin with. Couple that with a claim that a stock is virtually guaranteed to increase in value and you have the recipe for an investment disaster. "This is one investment you can't miss out on! Guaranteed 30% return in the first three months." This "Risk-Free" offer should be avoided like the plague. There is no such thing as a guaranteed investment. The reason investors earn a return at all is there is a risk of losing their money. According to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) Cyber fraud Website, these "'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 don't even exist." "Off-shore schemes" are becoming increasingly popular. Because of different and sometimes weaker regulatory requirements in other countries and the ease of communication offered by the Internet, con artists are able to bilk you out of large sums of money with little or no risk. Many times, these con artists are either untraceable, or the complexities involved in international justice may prevent U.S. authorities from investigating and prosecuting them. Unless you have personal knowledge and trust in all the parties involved, steer away from foreign "investment opportunities." In the typical "Ponzi"scheme, a con artist will sell investments that promise tremendous returns. The only winners are the people who promote them, and perhaps the early investors who receive their payments out of funds swindled from later investors. Again, these investments can fall in the category of deals that sound too good to be true and high return securities. The preceding scams are just a sampling of the many potential scams an investor can run into. The sad fact is that thieves are proficient at inventing new ways of stealing your money. So, how do you protect yourself in this time of do-it-yourself investing? First, you ask yourself one simple question. Is it too good to be true? If it is, back off and let someone else make the "fortune." If you don't back away, at least proceed with extreme caution. Here are a few things you can do when you get that unbelievable offer:

  • Don't believe what you hear or what you read. The worst thing you can do is invest based solely on what you read in a newsletter or discussion group.
  • Check out the reputation and references of any promoters offering stocks to you, especially if they make unsolicited offers.
  • If the stocks or investments being offered are of companies that file with the SEC, then check for any financial information the SEC might have. As a general guide, companies with over $10 million in assets and 500 stockholders, or companies traded on the NASDAQ or other national markets (New York Exchange, American Exchange) must file quarterly and annual financial statements with the SEC. The filings will include details regarding the company's financial condition as of the date of the filing and certain information about management's perception of the company's future. You can find this information at the SEC's EDGAR database (http://www.sec.gov/edgarhp.htm). Anyone can access and download information from this database. Some companies that have publicly traded stock are not required to make annual filings. Companies that raise less than $5 million in a twelve-month period are subject to filing requirements under 'Regulation A' of the Securities laws. Companies which raise less than $1 million are subject to "Regulation D." Filings under Regulation D contain little more than the names and addresses of the owners of a company registered with the SEC (Registrant) and the stock promoters. Registrants filing under Regulation A file a hard copy of their Offering Circular, which includes audited financial statements and other information on the Registrant. To find out if a company has any filings under Regulations A or D, you can call the SEC at (202) 942-8090.
  • Don't even think about investing in a company that does not file with the SEC, unless it allows you access to it's last three years financial statements, documents verifying any claims regarding new product development or lucrative contracts, a list of suppliers and customers to verify if they do business with the company and a list of management and owners so you can check out their reputation.
  • Check out the reputation and references of any promoters offering stocks to you, especially if they make unsolicited offers.
  • Contact your state securities regulators. You can find a list at the Website of the North American Securities Administrators Association. They will be able to tell you if the broker offering the securities has a history of disciplinary activities.
  • Check with the National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. at (800) 289-9999. The NASD will be able to give you a partial disciplinary record of the broker or firm trying to sell the stock to you. You can also go to their Website at www.nasdr.com.

These are just a few things you can do to protect yourself. Luckily for the investor, Web sites exposing hoaxes and offering advice on how to spot scams have proliferated along with the thieves. The following are just a few sites you may wish to visit:

  • http://www.investorguide.com/Fraud.htm
  • http://www.financialweb.com/skdindex.asp
  • http://www.fraud.org
  • http://www.fraudbureau.com/articles/stock/article
  • http://www.sec.gov/consumer/cyberfr.htm
  • Plus many, many more

The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to make informed decisions. The roller coaster market has created an atmosphere akin to a casino. You may say to yourself "I'll just take this money I was saving for a rainy day and plunk it down on XYZ Corporation and triple it." That's fine if you have already checked the company out and are comfortable with it, but to speculate on a stock after reading a bulletin board discussion or receiving a "stock alert" doesn't constitute making an informed decision. Just remember "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

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