U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Litigation Release No. 22339 / April 20, 2012
Securities and Exchange Commission v. Thomas Edward Hunter and Alexander John Hunter, Civil Action No. 12-CV-3123 (S.D.N.Y.)
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged twin brothers from the U.K. with defrauding approximately 75,000 investors through an Internet-based pump-and-dump scheme in which they touted a fake “stock picking robot” that purportedly identified penny stocks set to double in price. Instead, the brothers were merely touting stocks they were being paid separately to promote.
The SEC alleges that Alexander John Hunter and Thomas Edward Hunter were just 16 years old when they set their fraud in motion beginning in 2007. They disseminated e-mail newsletters through a pair of websites they created to tout stocks selected by the robot – which they described as a highly sophisticated computer trading program that was the product of extensive research and development. Their claims were persuasive as the Hunters received at least $1.2 million from investors primarily in the U.S. who paid $47 apiece for annual newsletter subscriptions. Some investors paid an additional fee for the “home version” of the robot software.
The SEC alleges that the brothers separately created a third website where they marketed their newsletter subscriber list to penny stock promoters and boasted, “One email to this list of people rockets a stock price.” The Hunters were in turn paid to send selected penny stock ticker symbols to their subscribers, who were misled to believe that the stock “picks” were the product of the robot. The Hunters sent out their newsletters near the beginning of the trading day, and the price and volume of the promoted stocks spiked dramatically as newsletter subscribers rushed to purchase shares. However, the stocks typically fell precipitously shortly thereafter, leaving investors in most cases with shares worth less than they had purchased them for earlier in the day.
According to the SEC’s complaint, the Hunters also offered subscribers a downloadable version of the stock picking robot for an additional fee of $97. Rather than performing the analysis advertised, the software was actually designed to deliver users a stock pick supplied by the brothers.
The Commission’s complaint further alleges that the Defendants violated Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder and seeks permanent injunctions against future violations by the Defendants and disgorgement of all ill-gotten gains, including prejudgment interest and civil penalties.