The SEC has charged an Illinois-based investment advisor and former CPA with using LinkedIn and other social media channels to attempt to sell $500 million in fictitious securities.
Anthony Fields of Lyons, Ill., is also accused of claiming to have $400 million in assets under management when, in fact, he had none.
Although Anthony Fields & Associates has been registered with the SEC as an investment advisor since March 2010, Fields himself does not hold any securities licenses, and has no experience trading securities, according to the regulatory agency.
There are no known victims of the alleged scheme, said Robert Kaplan, co-chief of the SEC’s asset management unit. The absence of victims raised the question internally of whether the SEC ought to allocate resources to the case, Kaplan said, but the commission decided to proceed.
“How can you not sue somebody like this?” Kaplan asked. “He was out there using social media to solicit investors. We thought it was right to get in there and stop that.”
Messages left on Fields’ voicemail at Anthony Fields & Associates were not returned. Kaplan said Fields did not indicate that he had hired a lawyer and appeared to be representing himself.
Fields allegedly promoted fictitious “bank guarantees” and “medium-term notes” in LinkedIn discussions. The postings resulted in interest from potential buyers, according to the SEC.
The SEC order quotes language in marketing materials used by the advisor describing a sole proprietorship owned by Fields as follows: “Platinum Securities Brokers is one of the leading institutional broker/dealers in government securities with state of the art electronic trading capabilities and a portfolio of over 25,000 U.S. Government securities.”
However, the SEC alleges that Fields “has no customers, no assets, no securities in inventory, no in-house experience in trading government securities and Platinum is not a primary dealer authorized by the [Federal Reserve Board of New York] to buy and sell securities directly for the U.S. Treasury.”
The SEC further accuses Fields of reporting false and materially misleading information on his Form ADV, failing to maintain required books and records and failing to implement adequate compliance policies and procedures. He also allegedly held himself out to be a broker-dealer while he was not registered with the SEC.
Within 30 days, the matter should come before an administrative law judge, Kaplan said. If he is found to have committed violations of securities laws, Fields could face penalties ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in damages. He could also be barred for life from the industry, according to Kaplan.
The case is just the latest to highlight the growing challenges investors, advisors, firms and regulators are all facing when it comes to establishing and meeting compliance standards for social media usage and interaction throughout the industry.
The SEC used the Fields case to issue two related alerts on Wednesday.
The first – a National Examination Risk Alert titled “Investment Adviser Use of Social Media” – provides staff observations based on a review of investment advisor firms of varying sizes and strategies that use social media. In growing numbers, registered investment adviser firms are using social media to communicate with existing and potential clients, promote services, educate investors and recruit new employees.
The alert reviews concerns that may arise from use of social media by firms and their associates. It offers suggestions for complying with the antifraud, compliance and recordkeeping provisions of the federal securities laws. The alert notes that firms should consider how to implement new compliance programs or revisit their existing programs in the face of rapidly changing technologies.
The SEC also issued an Investor Alert titled “Social Media and Investing: Avoiding Fraud” prepared by the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy. The alert aims to make investors aware of fraudulent investment schemes that use social media. It also provides tips for checking the backgrounds of advisers and brokers. A new Investor Bulletin titled “Social Media and Investing: Understanding Your Accounts” contains best practices including privacy settings, security tips and password selection aimed to help social media users protect their personal information and avoid fraud.
“Fraudsters are quick to adapt to new technologies to exploit them for unlawful purposes,” Kaplan said in a statement. “Social media is no exception, and today’s enforcement action reflects our determination to pursue fraudulent activity on new and evolving platforms.”