The Securities and Exchange Commission has suspended trading in 128 inactive penny stock companies to ensure they don’t become a source for pump-and-dump schemes.
The trading suspensions are the latest in a microcap fraud-fighting initiative known as Operation Shell-Expel in which the SEC Enforcement Division’s Office of Market Intelligence utilizes technology to scour the over-the-counter (OTC) marketplace and identify dormant companies ripe for abuse. The proactive efforts have prevented fraudsters from having the opportunity to manipulate these thinly-traded stocks by pumping the companies’ stock value through false and misleading promotional campaigns and then dumping the stocks after investors buy in.
Since it began in 2012, Operation Shell-Expel has resulted in trading suspensions of more than 800 microcap stocks, which comprises more than 8 percent of the OTC market. Once a stock has been suspended from trading, it cannot be relisted unless the company provides updated financial information to prove it’s actually operational. It’s extremely rare for a company to fulfill this requirement, and the trading suspensions essentially render the shells worthless and useless to scam artists.
“Operation Shell-Expel continues to be an efficient way to combat microcap fraud by denying fraudsters the empty nests they need to hatch their schemes,” Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC Enforcement Division. “We are getting increasingly aggressive and adept at ridding the microcap marketplace of dormant shells within a year of the companies becoming inactive.”
Today’s massive trading suspension identifies dormant shell companies in 24 states and Canada.
The Operation Shell-Expel initiative has been led by William Hankins, Margaret Cain, Robert Bernstein, Victoria Adraktas, LaVerne Patterson, Jessica P. Regan, Leigh Barrett, and John Gibbons in the Office of Market Intelligence with assistance from the Enforcement Division’s Delinquent Filings Group. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the FBI’s Economic Crimes Unit.