SEC Takes Action: False & Misleading Conduct Related to COVID-19

Since February 2020, the SEC has temporarily suspended trading in over 30 stocks and filed several enforcement actions against individuals and microcap securities issuers based on fraudulent COVID-19-related claims.

The enforcement actions have a common theme – fraudulent misrepresentations made in press releases and online forums about the company providing COVID-19 tests or protective equipment, in an attempt to unlawfully drive up the share price of the company’s stock.

These emergency enforcement actions seek to protect the public by freezing defendants’ assets, getting permanent injunctions to bar the wrongdoers from further violations of the securities laws, officer-and-director bars against individual participants, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, civil money penalties, and penny stock trading bars.

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Investor Alert – Fraudsters Target CARES Act Retirement Savings Relief

If you are considering using provisions under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to withdraw and reinvest money from your retirement savings, be aware that fraudsters may be targeting you. Be wary when someone encourages you to use your retirement savings to make new investments. When considering new investments, do your own research and consider contacting an unbiased investment professional or an attorney.

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FINRA Issues Warning: Pandemic Volatility Highlights Oil-Linked ETPs Unsuitable for Some Investors

FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, issued an eye-catching warning in Regulatory Notice 20-14 about a particularly complex and risky type of security: Oil and Gas Exchange Traded Products, or ETPs. High concentrations in the oil and gas sector, especially with complex, risky, and volatile products like ETPs, may become a frequent subject for investor litigation in the upcoming year and fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic. To quote FINRA, “the performance of such products may be linked to unfamiliar indices or reference benchmarks, making them difficult for the average investor to comprehend.”

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Reviewing Investment Account Statements During Market Volatility – Five Red Flags

Seeing that account balance number can hurt. And not all investment losses are potentially recoverable or due to inappropriate recommendations by a financial advisor. But in times of market volatility, reviewing investment account statements might reveal claims for losses that are actionable and recoverable – if prompt action is taken.

Warren Buffet’s much repeated quote, “only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked,” rings true once again today in the sawtooth market volatility of the coronavirus global pandemic. The Dow Jones Industrial average hit a record high of 29,551 in mid-February. Today it stands about 20% lower than that, having seen the price of crude oil slipping into negative territory and other wild news. Some market sectors have been hit disproportionately, and there is no end in sight to the turmoil. Investors are waking to unexpected margin calls while struggling to maintain liquid assets.

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Oregon Legislature Corrects Procedural Hurdle in ORS 124.100(6) for Financial Elder Abuse Claims

The National Adult Protective Services Association reports that 90% of financial abusers are family members or trusted others. And financial abuse is vastly under-reported: it is estimated that only one in 44 cases are reported to state protective services. Estimates of financial elder abuse and fraud costs range from $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion annually. 

The attorneys at Samuels Yoelin Kantor watch for legal changes that may affect our current and future clients. A new Oregon law, effective January 1, 2020, should help vulnerable Oregonians that have been victims of abuse by making it harder to dismiss civil actions for abuse under ORS Chapter 124. This chapter of the Oregon Revised Statutes is also known as the Elderly Persons and Persons with Disabilities Abuse Prevention Act (“Act”).

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SYK Attorney Darlene Pasieczny to Moderate “Hybrid Advisers” Panel

Darlene Pasieczny will moderate “Hybrid Advisers” panel, Tuesday October 9th. They will be exploring issues in regulation and customer dispute resolution when a culpable financial adviser “wears two hats” as both a FINRA‐licensed broker and SEC‐licensed registered investment adviser. When is the brokerage firm responsible for conduct by its dual‐registered associated person? How do FINRA and the SEC parse enforcement issues for these hybrid advisers? The panel will discuss trends in customer arbitration cases, recent case law decisions, compliance and enforcement.

Find registration information in the full article!

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Investor Alert – NASAA and SEC Warn about Cryptocurrency Related Investments

On January 4th, the same day I posted about a recent FINRA Investor Alert regarding cryptocurrency, there was a new press release from the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) with further guidance on the same topic. NASAA’s analysis and warning amounts to this: Initial Coin Offerings (“ICOs”), and all other investment products related to cryptocurrency or the blockchain, pose a threat to investors.

“A NASAA survey of state and provincial securities regulators shows 94 percent believe there is a ‘high risk of fraud’ involving cryptocurrencies. Regulators also were unanimous in their view that more regulation is needed for cryptocurrency to provide greater investor protection.”

The same day, the SEC made a public statement from Chairman Jay Clayton and Commissioners Kara M. Stein and Michael S. Piwowar, in wholehearted agreement with NASAA: “The NASAA release also reminds investors that when they are offered and sold securities they are entitled to the benefits of state and federal securities laws, and that sellers and other market participants must follow these laws. Unfortunately, it is clear that many promoters of ICOs and others participating in the cryptocurrency – related investment markets are not following these laws. The SEC and state securities regulators are pursuing violations, but we again caution you that, if you lose money, there is a substantial risk that our efforts will not result in a recovery of your investment.”

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FINRA Expels New York Stockbroker Hank Mark Werner

On November 8, 2017, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that a broker named Hank Mark Werner of upstate New York had been barred from the securities industry. The headline: “FINRA Hearing Panel Bars Broker for Defrauding Elderly, Blind Customer”.

The pattern of this behavior is outrageous but not all that unusual. It makes a good example of how financial professionals fail their clients.

According to the FINRA news release, Mr. Werner served as the licensed broker for an elderly couple since 1995. The husband died in 2012. Mr. Werner made some 700 trades on “behalf” of his client, a sightless 77-year old recently widowed woman in poor health between October 2012 and December 2015. He ultimately collected $210,000 in commissions. The panel’s decision includes an order of restitution to the widow, a fine, Mr. Werner’s banishment from the industry, and a further fine and censure for his employer – Legend Securities, brokerage firm expelled from the securities industry as of April, 2017.

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Banks Receives 2016 Distinguished Service Award from PIABA

Last week at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association in San Diego, attorney Bob Banks was honored with PIABA’s Distinguished Service Award. The award is given “in recognition of outstanding, long-term and sustained service to promote the interests of the public investor in securities and commodities arbitration.”

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