Securities Law Prof Blog

Editor: Eric C. Chaffee
Univ. of Toledo College of Law

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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

SEC Gets Emergency Relief in Market-Manipulation Scheme Involving Computer Hacking

The SEC announced that on Tuesday, March 6, 2007, it won an emergency court order freezing assets in a Latvian-based bank's trading account being used to conduct a hi-tech market manipulation scheme. The Commission's enforcement action is the third filed in as many months involving market manipulation schemes conducted through online account intrusions.  The Commission alleged that the account, maintained by relief defendant JSC Parex Bank based in Riga, Latvia, had been used by one or more unknown offshore sub-account holders to launch a "pump and dump" manipulation scheme involving the stocks of fifteen different public companies. As part of the scheme, the unknown traders hacked into unsuspecting investors' online brokerage accounts at seven different brokerage firms, selling off investors' positions and using the proceeds to pump up the market for the stocks subject to the scheme. Through this technique, the unknown traders generated at least $732,941 in illicit profits and cost U.S. brokerages some $2 million in losses.

The Commission's complaint alleges a complex scheme that combines electronic intrusions into online brokerage accounts with a traditional market manipulation. From at least December 2005 through December 2006, one or more foreign-based unknown traders purchased, through four sub-accounts of an omnibus trading account titled in the name of Relief Defendant JSC Parex Bank and held at Pinnacle Capital Markets LLC of North Carolina, shares in 15 U.S.-based Nasdaq-traded companies. These unknown traders then hacked into unsuspecting investors' online brokerage accounts at seven major online broker-dealers and sold off investors' existing securities holdings. They then used the proceeds to buy shares on the open market of the thinly traded issuers the unknown traders had previously purchased in their own sub-accounts. This illicit account activity artificially heightened the share price and trading volume for each of the thinly traded issues and enabled the unknown traders to sell their holdings at a substantial profit, realizing at least $732,941 in ill-gotten gains, and possibly more. The unknown traders also used electronic means to hide their identities and mask the means by which they intruded into accounts.

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