Latest crackdown is the second-largest trading suspension in agency history
In its ongoing "Operation Shell Expel" to protect investors from fraud, The Securities and Exchange Commission suspended trading Monday in the securities of 61 empty shell companies. The initiative is a crackdown against the manipulation of microcap shell companies that are “ripe for fraud as they lay dormant in the over-the-counter market,” the SEC announced in a statement.
From A (Austin Farms Inc) to Z (Zone Mining Ltd), these 61 companies are delinquent in their public filings and seemingly no longer in business. “Once they become dormant they have great potential to be hijacked by fraudsters who falsely hype the stock to portray it as a thriving company and coerce investors into ‘pump-and-dump’ schemes,” the SEC said
The companies are located in at least 17 states and one foreign country. Once trading has been suspended, they are obligated to provide financial information to prove they are still operational. This renders them “useless to scam artists not that they are no longer flying under the radar,” the SEC said.
A “Pump-and-Dump” scheme is one of the most common types of fraud against investors. False and misleading statements about a company’s stock are posted on social media sites, as well as on bulletin boards and chat rooms. Scammers purchase the stock at a low price before pumping the stock price higher by creating the appearance of market activity and drawing investor interest. Then they dump the stock for significant profit by selling it into the market at the higher price once investors have bought in. Once they dump their shares, the stock price tumbles and investors lose their money.
“Stock manipulators crave empty shell companies that they can use to conduct pump-and-dump schemes and line their pockets with illicit trading profits by taking advantage of unsuspecting investors,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, co-director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, in a statement.
Last year, the SEC suspended trading in a record 379 companies in a single day.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.