SEC Charges Illinois-Based Adviser in Social Media Scam
Agency Issues Alerts on Social Media Risks for Investors and Firms
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged an Illinois-based investment adviser with offering to sell fictitious securities on LinkedIn and issued two alerts in an agency-wide effort to highlight the risks investors and advisory firms face when using social media.
The SEC’s Division of Enforcement alleges that Anthony Fields of Lyons, Ill. offered more than $500 billion in fictitious securities through various social media websites. For example, he used LinkedIn discussions to promote fictitious “bank guarantees” and “medium-term notes.” The postings resulted in interest from multiple purported potential buyers.
“Fraudsters are quick to adapt to new technologies to exploit them for unlawful purposes,” said Robert B. Kaplan, Co-Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit. “Social media is no exception, and today’s enforcement action reflects our determination to pursue fraudulent activity on new and evolving platforms.”
According to the SEC’s order instituting administrative proceedings against Fields, he made multiple fraudulent offers through his two sole proprietorships – Anthony Fields & Associates (AFA) and Platinum Securities Brokers. Fields provided false and misleading information concerning AFA’s assets under management, clients, and operational history to the public through its website and in SEC filings. Fields also failed to maintain required books and records, did not implement adequate compliance policies and procedures, and held himself out to be a broker-dealer while he was not registered with the SEC.
One of the alerts issued today – a National Examination Risk Alert titled “Investment Adviser Use of Social Media” – provides staff observations based on a review of investment advisers of varying sizes and strategies that use social media. In growing numbers, registered investment adviser firms are using social media to communicate with existing and potential clients, promote services, educate investors, and recruit new employees.
“As investment advisers increasingly utilize social media to communicate with clients and potential clients, firms need to be mindful of the applicable standards governing those communications,” said Carlo di Florio, Director of the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE).
The alert reviews concerns that may arise from use of social media by firms and their associated persons, and offers suggestions for complying with the antifraud, compliance, and recordkeeping provisions of the federal securities laws. The alert notes that firms should consider how to implement new compliance programs or revisit their existing programs in the face of rapidly changing technology.
The SEC also issued an Investor Alert titled “Social Media and Investing: Avoiding Fraud” prepared by the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy. The alert aims to help investors be better aware of fraudulent investment schemes that use social media, and provides tips for checking the backgrounds of advisers and brokers. A new Investor Bulletin titled “Social Media and Investing: Understanding Your Accounts” contains best practices including privacy settings, security tips, and password selection aimed to help social media users protect their personal information and avoid fraud.
“More and more, investors are using social media to help them with investment decisions. While social media can provide many benefits for investors, it also makes an attractive target for fraudsters. The Investor Alert provides some useful tips to help investors look out for securities fraud online,” said Lori J. Schock, Director of the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy.
For additional information on avoiding securities fraud, visit the SEC’s website for individual investors: www.investor.gov.
The SEC’s investigation of Anthony Fields was conducted by Donna K. Norman and Julie M. Riewe. The SEC’s litigation effort will be led by Duane K. Thompson. The National Examination Risk Alert was prepared by Mavis Kelly and George Kramer of OCIE in consultation with other Commission staff, notably Catherine A. Courtney and Natasha Vij Greiner. The Investor Alert was prepared by M. Owen Donley III and Rahman Harrison.