The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged an investment adviser with trying to sell $500 billion-worth of fictitious securities on LinkedIn and other social networking sites.
The watchdog claims that Illinois-based Anthony Fields used LinkedIn discussions to promote fictitious "bank guarantees" and "medium-term notes", managing to entice several potential buyers into expressing interest.
The SEC's order says he also provided "false and misleading information" concerning Anthony Fields & Associates's assets under management, clients, and operational history to the public through its Web site and in SEC filings.
Robert Kaplan, co-chief, enforcement division's asset management unit, SEC, says: "Fraudsters are quick to adapt to new technologies to exploit them for unlawful purposes. Social media is no exception, and today's enforcement action reflects our determination to pursue fraudulent activity on new and evolving platforms."
The action against Fields is part of a move by the SEC to step up oversight of how the investment industry uses social media, with the regulator taking the opportunity to publish alerts on the issue to investors and advisory firms.
The notice to advisers warns that firms need to consider how to implement new compliance programs or revisit existing ones in the face of rapidly changing technology.
An investor alert offers tips on how to be better aware of fraudulent schemes that use social media, and provides advice on checking the backgrounds of advisers and brokers. Meanwhile, an investor bulletin gives best practice guidance on things like 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," says Lori Schock, director, Office of Investor Education and Advocacy.
The SEC's action comes as the US Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (Finra) backs away from proposals that would have required broker dealers to monitor and report all social media postings by representatives and affiliates. In an amendment to its package of social media compliance demands filed with the SEC late last month, Finra stated that it would exclude messages on online interactive forums from a post-use filing requirement. The self-regulatory body said that the change was instituted in response to member concerns over the scale of the data management challenge imposed by the proposed rule.