Hundreds of online investment newsletters have appeared on the Internet in recent years. Many offer investors free of charge seemingly unbiased information about featured companies or recommend "stock picks of the month." While legitimate online newsletters can help investors gather valuable information, some online newsletters are tools for fraud.
Some companies pay the people who write online newsletters cash or securities to "tout" or recommend their stocks. While this isn't illegal, the federal securities laws require the newsletters to disclose who paid them, the amount, and the type of payment. But many fraudsters fail to do so. Instead, they'll lie about the payments they received, their independence, their so-called research, and their track records. Their newsletters masquerade as sources of unbiased information, when in fact they stand to profit handsomely if they convince investors to buy or sell particular stocks.
Some online newsletters falsely claim to independently research the stocks they profile. Others spread false information or promote worthless stocks. The most notorious sometimes "scalp" the stocks they hype, driving up the price of the stock with their baseless recommendations and then selling their own holdings at high prices and high profits. To learn how to separate the good from the bad, read our;
Find out whether the newsletter received payment to "tout" or recommend the stock and, if so, what it received and from whom.
Because the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment protects freedom of speech, the SEC cannot simply prohibit newsletters from recommending or touting particular stocks. But when newsletters receive payment for touting, the securities laws require them to disclose specifically who paid them, the amount, and the type of payment (cash, stock, or some other thing of value).
Read carefully what the newsletter says about payments it receives.
Be suspicious of newsletters that do not specifically disclose these items: who paid them, the amount, and the type of payment. The following examples raise red flags because they do not contain specific information:
Independently investigate the company or investment opportunity.
Be wary of anyone who encourages you to invest in small, thinly-traded stocks that aren't well known and don't file reports with the SEC. Assume that everything you read about those companies in an online bulletin board, newsletter, or chat room is untrue until you prove by your own independent research that it isn't. Read tips for assessing any investment opportunity, and be sure to download a copy of Ask Questions.
Don't invest in small, thinly-traded companies unless you're prepared to lose every penny.
Because small, thinly-traded companies are usually the most risky investments that you can make, you should always get as much written information as you can from the company and other independent sources. The SEC and your state's securities regulator should always be your first stops, but you may also want to visit your local library and talk with the librarian about other sources of information. There are also a number of commercial services that provide a constant stream of information about the financial condition of companies.
Check with the SEC or your state securities regulator to see if the newsletter has ever been in trouble.
Whenever the SEC sues a newsletter or stock promoter, we issue a "litigation release" and post it on our web site. Check the Enforcement Division's home page to see whether we've brought action against a newsletter or stock promoter who's touting a stock. You can also search the SEC's non-EDGAR database for this information.
Your state securities regulator can tell you whether the broker pushing the stock or the broker's firm has a disciplinary history by checking the Central Registration Depository (CRD). You can also obtain a partial disciplinary history by contacting the National Association of Securities Dealers' toll-free public disclosure hot-line at (800) 289-9999 or visiting their website at http://www.nasdr.com.
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