SEC’s efforts to combat microcap fraud continue as it suspends trading in dormant shell companies. Commence Operation Shell-Expel!
One favorite technique of microcap fraud operators is to use shell companies as vehicles for pump-and-dump schemes. The SEC has tried over the years to clamp down on operators who take advantage of unsuspecting investors through these types of companies. For example, the SEC recently announced a microcap fraud task force to deal with fraud involving microcap securities.
In this regard, the SEC has also announced that it has taken a proactive step in its shell company enforcement. It has suspended trading in 255 dormant shell companies of the type it describes as “ripe for abuse in the over-the-counter market.”
“A frequent element in pump-and-dump schemes has been the use of dormant shells,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, director of the SEC Enforcement Division. “Because these shells all too often are used by those looking to manipulate stock prices, we will continue to protect unwary investors by suspending trading in shells.”
Operation Shell-Expel has been in effect since 2012. The SEC has been scrutinizing penny stocks and looking for inactive companies. Trading is then suspended until updated financials are provided. Since this is generally unlikely, the trading suspension ends the value of the dormant company to scammers.
Due to the number and low profile of dormant companies, enforcement this sector can be a challenge.
“Policing this sector of the markets can be a challenge,” said Margaret Cain, a microcap specialist in the Office of Market Intelligence. “There is often little or no reliable information about a microcap issuer, and the sheer number of these companies stretches law enforcement resources thin and makes this sector particularly dangerous for investors. The approach we take with Operation Shell-Expel is both economical and efficient as the SEC continues its commitment to preventing microcap fraud.”