The Securities and Exchange Commission charged twin brothers from the U.K. with defrauding about 75,000 investors through an Internet-based pump-and-dump scheme in which they touted a fake "stock picking robot" that purportedly identified penny stocks set to double in price. Instead, the SEC said, the brothers were merely touting stocks they were being paid separately to promote.
The SEC alleges that Alexander John Hunter and Thomas Edward Hunter were just 16 years old when they set their fraud in motion beginning in 2007. They disseminated e-mail newsletters through a pair of websites they created to tout stocks selected by the robot - which they described as a highly sophisticated computer trading program that was the product of extensive research and development.
Their claims were persuasive as the Hunters received at least $1.2 million from investors primarily in the U.S. who paid $47 apiece for annual newsletter subscriptions. Some investors paid an additional fee for the "home version" of the robot software.
The SEC alleges that the brothers separately created a third website where they marketed their newsletter subscriber list to penny stock promoters and boasted, "One email to this list of people rockets a stock price."
The Hunters were in turn paid to send selected penny stock ticker symbols to their subscribers, who were misled to believe that the stock "picks" were the product of the robot. The Hunters sent out their newsletters near the beginning of the trading day, and the price and volume of the promoted stocks spiked dramatically as newsletter subscribers rushed to purchase shares. However, the stocks typically fell precipitously shortly thereafter, leaving investors in most cases with shares worth less than they had purchased them for earlier in the day.
According to the SEC's complaint, the Hunters also offered subscribers a downloadable version of the stock picking robot for an additional fee of $97. Rather than performing the analysis advertised, the software was actually designed to deliver users a stock pick supplied by the brothers.