The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority are warning investors to beware of stock scams that promise easy profits from cleanup efforts related to the catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The SEC and FINRA noted that while some of the companies touting their role in the cleanup may be legitimate, others could be bogus operations that are only looking to clean out unsuspecting investors.
In a recent action, on May 25, the SEC suspended trading in shares of ACT Clean Technologies Inc., of Huntington Beach, Calif. The SEC took this action because of questions about the accuracy and adequacy of publicly disseminated information concerning, among other things: British Petroleum's purported expression of interest in using a so-called oil fluidizer technology purportedly licensed to ACT's wholly-owned subsidiary for use in cleanup operations in the Gulf of Mexico; and the purported results of field tests finding that the oil fluidizers are effective for use in cleanup efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.
The SEC and FINRA noted that some companies may issue press releases, or send unsolicited faxes or spam emails that might include:
• Claims to have products or technologies that are effective in remediating oil spills or restoring the eco-system
• Mention of contracts or expected contracts with BP, formerly British Petroleum, that will aid the cleanup effort
• Claims that the company is providing technical assistance or expertise to BP or to U.S. government agencies such as the Coast Guard or the Environmental Protection Agency
• Predictions of rapid, exponential sales growth
• Pressure to invest immediately
To avoid potential scams, they recommended:
Investigate before you invest. Never rely solely on information contained in an unsolicited fax, email, text message or tweet--or in a blog post or online thread. It's easy for companies or their promoters to make glorified claims about product effectiveness, lucrative contracts, or the company's revenues, profits or future stock price.
Find out who sent the message. Many companies and individuals that tout stocks are paid to do so by the company being touted. Examine the fine print for any statements indicating payments in cash or in stock for issuing the report or message.
Find out where the stock trades. Most unsolicited fax and spam recommendations involve stocks that do not meet the listing requirements of the major stock exchanges. Instead, they usually are quoted on the OTC Bulletin Board or in the Pink Sheets, which do not impose minimum qualitative standards. Many of the securities quoted on the OTC Bulletin Board or in the Pink Sheets trade infrequently, which can make it difficult to sell your shares. When shares on the OTC Bulletin Board or in the Pink Sheets do trade, they may move up or down in price very rapidly.
Read a company's SEC filings. Most public companies file quarterly and annual reports with the SEC. Check the SEC's EDGAR database to find out if the company is filing reports to the SEC, and read them. Be aware that registering securities and filing reports with the SEC does not mean the company will be a good investment.
Exercise some skepticism. Scammers are very adept at making their pitches appear real, including the use of slick videos and websites. Be extremely wary of any pitch that suggests immediate pay-offs, especially if the investment involves a start-up company or a product or service that is still in development.