While fraudsters are constantly changing the way they approach victims on the Internet, there are a number of common scams of which you should be aware. Here are a few examples of the types of schemes you should be on the lookout for when using social media:

“Pump-and-Dumps” and Market Manipulations:

“Pump-and-dump” schemes involve the touting of a company’s stock (typically small, so-called “microcap” companies) through false and misleading statements to the marketplace. These false claims could be made on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as on bulletin boards and chat rooms. Pump-and-dump schemes often occur on the Internet where it is common to see messages posted that urge readers to buy a stock quickly or to sell before the price goes down, or a telemarketer will call using the same sort of pitch. Often the promoters will claim to have “inside” information about an impending development or to use an “infallible” combination of economic and stock market data to pick stocks. In reality, they may be company insiders or paid promoters who stand to gain by selling their shares after the stock price is “pumped” up by the buying frenzy they create.  Once these fraudsters “dump” their shares and stop hyping the stock, the price typically falls, and investors lose their money.

Fraud Using “Research Opinions,” Online Investment Newsletters, and Spam Blasts:

While legitimate online newsletters may contain useful information about investing, others are merely tools for fraud.  Some companies pay online newsletters to “tout” or recommend their stocks.  Touting isn’t illegal as long as the newsletters disclose who paid them, how much they’re getting paid, and the form of the payment, usually cash or stock.  But fraudsters often lie about the payments they receive and their track records in recommending stocks. Fraudulent promoters may claim to offer independent, unbiased recommendations in newsletters when they stand to profit from convincing others to buy or sell certain stocks – often, but not always, penny stocks.  The fact that these so-called “newsletters” may be advertised on legitimate websites, including on the online financial pages of news organizations, does not mean that they are not fraudulent.

High Yield Investment Programs:

The Internet is awash in so-called “high-yield investment programs” or “HYIPs.” These are unregistered investments typically run by unlicensed individuals – and they are often frauds.  The hallmark of an HYIP scam is the promise of incredible returns at little or no risk to the investor. A HYIP website might promise annual (or even monthly, weekly, or daily!) returns of 30 or 40 percent – or more. Some of these scams may use the term “prime bank” program. If you are approached online to invest in one of these, you should exercise extreme caution – they are likely frauds.  

Internet-Based Offerings:

Offering frauds come in many different forms. Generally speaking, an offering fraud involves a security of some sort that is offered to the public, where the terms of the offer are materially misrepresented.  The offerings, which can be made online, may make misrepresentations about the likelihood of guaranteed or inflated returns.  While the federal securities laws require the registration of solicitations or “offerings,” some offerings are exempt.  Always determine if a securities offering is registered with the SEC or a state, or is otherwise exempt from registration, before investing.