BULLETIN: SEC Suspends Trading In 379 Penny Stocks; Initiative Dubbed ‘Operation Shell-Expel’ Leads To Unprecedented Number Of Shutdowns

BULLETIN: In an unprecedented move, the SEC today announced that it had suspended trading in 379 penny stocks, saying the companies were delinquent in filings and ripe for hijacking and scams involving reverse mergers and pump-and-dump schemes.

“The trading suspension marks the most companies ever suspended in a single day by the agency as it ramps up its crackdown against fraud involving microcap shell companies that are dormant and delinquent in their public disclosures,” the agency said.

The previous one-day record for trading suspensions was 35. That mark was set in 2005, but the SEC now says “enhanced intelligence technology” has enabled it to spot dormant companies more effectively and head off trouble at the pass.

“Empty shell companies are to stock manipulators and pump-and-dump schemers what guns are to bank robbers — the tools by which they ply their illegal trade,” said Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “This massive trading suspension unmasks these empty shell companies and deprives unscrupulous scam artists of the opportunity to profit at the expense of unsuspecting retail investors.”

Regulators such as the SEC and FTC and agencies such as the FBI long have fretted about the use of shell companies to pull off fraud schemes, dupe investors, customers and vendors and conceal crimes and civil offenses.

“It’s critical to assess risks to investors in the capital markets and, through strategic planning, develop ways to neutralize them,” said Thomas Sporkin, director of the SEC’s Office of Market Intelligence. “We were able to conduct a detailed review of the microcap issuers quoted in the over-the-counter market and cull out these high-risk shell companies.”

As part of an initiative dubbed “Operation Shell-Expel” undertaken by the SEC’s Microcap Fraud Working Group, the trading suspensions announced today affect “clearly dormant shell companies in 32 states and six foreign countries that were ripe for potential fraud,” the agency said.

“The existence of empty shell companies can be a financial boon to stock manipulators who will pay as much as $750,000 to assume control of the company in order to pump and dump the stock for illegal proceeds to the detriment of investors,” the SEC said. “But with this trading suspension’s obligation to provide updated financial information, these shell companies have been rendered essentially worthless and useless to scam artists.”

Here is the list of the 379 companies.

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