Leadership Focus
Boiler Room Antics:
Avoid Being a Victim


From http://www.sec.gov/

What are Boiler Room Operators?

Boiler room operators are sales people who sit in one room making cold calls to potential investors and trying to pressure them into purchasing worthless investments. They are usually armed with sophisticated sales scripts and high-pressure sales techniques used to convince their victims to purchase dubious investments. Their victims are usually individuals with money such as business people, professionals and retirees.

What Type of Investments do Boiler Room Operators Peddle?

Boiler room operators will try to sell:

  • Penny or Microcap stocks
  • Foreign Exchange Investments
  • Risky Initial Public Offerings (IPO's)
  • House Stocks

~Microcap Stocks or Penny Stocks

In the US microcap stocks are considered to apply to companies with low or "micro" capitalizations, which refers to the total value of the company's stock. Many microcap stocks trade in the "over-the-counter" (OTC) market and are quoted on OTC systems, such as the OTC Bulletin Board (OTCBB) or the "Pink Sheets." They usually do not have to file financial reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In Canada, microcap stocks are referred to as penny stocks which loosely means stocks whose stock price is less than a $1.00. The reporting requirements in Canada do require penny stock companies to file financial statements.

In both cases, however, these stocks are thinly traded and therefore subject to price manipulation by unscrupulous promoters and company insiders.

~Foreign Exchange Investments

Scam artists try to solicit money for investments in exchange instruments traded in foreign markets during periods of financial crisis in such markets. The promoter tries to convince its callers that certain foreign exchange instruments are good investments which are currently undervalued because of such crisis which presents a tremendous buying opportunity. The investments are usually fictitious.

~Risky Initial Public Offerings (IPO's)

Companies that are initially becoming publicly traded companies usually do an initial public offering to raise money. While many of such offerings are worthwhile investments, many are risky ventures. The boiler room operator will tend to downplay or neglect to tell the investor the negative aspects so as to ensure the investor proceeds to invest. Many boiler room operators will try to sell IPO's that are underwritten by the investment firm for whom they work. "Underwritten" means that the investment firm either has been hired as an agent to find buyers for the initial offering or has purchased all or some of the initial offering itself and now is trying to resell it to the public, usually at a profit. Accordingly, these boiler room operators are in a conflict of interest since they are looking out for the interest of their company and not that of their clients.

~House Stocks

House stocks are stocks that an investment firm has purchased themselves to resell at a profit. Consequently, brokers of these house stocks will try to manipulate the market by buying stock of thinly traded companies. They will pump these stock prices up to higher prices and then sell them to their clients at a profit. The clients will find that there are no other buyers to buy their stocks. Consequently, without buyers, the stock price will fall leaving many unsuspecting investors with worthless stock.

Problems with Boiler Room Operators

Being a broker making cold calls to potential investors is not a violation of laws. Some boiler room operators, however, run afoul of the security laws and regulations by engaging in abusive selling practices or by not being properly registered. Here is a list of some of the problems encountered with some boiler room operators. Some boiler room operators:

  • make unauthorized trades in the names of the investors. Once the investor discovers what the boiler operator did, the boiler room operator tries to convince the investor to hold on to the stock.
  • evade broker-dealer registration requirements. All stockbrokers and the firms that employ them are required to register in the state or province in which they do business. Once the firms are registered, the authorities can monitor the activities of the firms to ensure compliance with laws designed to protect investors.
  • engage in abusive cold calling practices. Boiler Room operators rely on high-pressure, scripted telephone "cold calling" practices designed to pressure the investor into making an investment. The investor is not given time to think about the investment but is made to feel that he has to invest.

Some boiler room operators engage in sales practice abuses. These include:

  • lying about their firms' reputation and expertise.
  • falsifying records especially relating to unauthorized trades.
  • lying about the risks of investments that they are promoting.
  • failing to tell the client that they were underwriting the stock.
  • failing to tell the client that the stocks were house stocks.
  • pushing stocks that they know are worthless or inconsistent with the investors' financial objectives.
  • guaranteeing profits or making unsupported predictions of price.
  • failing to execute sell orders. The operator doesn't want to create downward pressure on stock price.
  • pressuring investors to make quick on the spot decisions.
  • lying about investments entirely.

How to Spot Boiler Room Operators

If you receive a telephone call from a broker who wants you to invest in one of the various instruments listed in Part 1, be mindful of the following list of descriptions which are typical hallmarks of a boiler room operator:

  • High-pressure sales tactics. The caller will try to force you make a decision on the spot and repeatedly make calls trying to force you into making a poor and hasty investment decision.
  • Promises of guaranteed or great profit at little or no risk. There are no investments that guarantee high returns and no or little risk. If it sounds to good to be true, it usually is. These callers will not tell you all the inherent risks in the investment nor try to determine whether it suits your investment objectives.
  • Scant information given on the investment. Most legitimate firms will provide written materials clearly disclosing the potential for loss in an investment, as well as its short- and long-term tax implications. Illegitimate firms will by reluctant to give you anything in writing.
  • References to "inside information". Callers will try to make you think that they have inside information that will, once disclosed to the public, cause the price of the stock to rise. Trading on insider information is prohibited at law. Usually promoters are not disclosing inside information, but simply false information to get you excited about the stock. Some promoters will claim that a large number of buyers will soon be coming into the market to purchase stock that will cause the stock price to escalate.
  • Some brokers will try to set you up. In the initial telephone call, the broker will try to build your trust by describing their firm's past successes and the high quality of its research. They won't try to push any stock but might simply ask your permission to call again. In their subsequent call they will pique your interest by telling you about a great stock or investment that they will try to get you involved in. In the final call they will encourage you to buy the great investment immediately or lose out.
  • Bait and Switch technique. Some brokers will at first discuss blue chip stocks and then start to encourage you into microcap or penny stocks.

If you have been a victim of the boiler operation, you will notice that once you have purchased a stock recommended by the caller, the previous heavy buying of the stock will have disappeared. In cases where the broker has enticed the investor into buying a house stock, once the broker or his firm have sold their stock position ("pump and dump") there are no other buyers who will buy your stock from you. The price will start to drift downwards.

You will also notice that once you have purchased the stock, the broker suddenly becomes unavailable to talk to you or encourages you not to sell. In some cases, the broker in fact does not execute your sale orders.

Tips on How to avoid being a Victim

Here are some tips that can help you avoid being a victim of a boiler room scam:

  • Don't cave in to high-pressure tactics.
  • Don't make an immediate decision. Get written information first about the firm, the sales person, and the investment.
  • Seek a second opinion from a professional advisor.
  • Don't invest in anything you don't understand.
  • Contact your state or provincial securities office to find out if the boiler room operator and his or her firm are registered.
  • Contact your local Better Business Bureau in the city in which the firm is located to determine whether there are any prior complaints. You can also conduct a search of our database at our Complaint Centre.
  • Don't encourage the caller to call again and don't be afraid to tell the caller to not call you again.
  • Don't share any personal information with the caller.
  • Hang up if the caller engages in abusive and persistent tactics.
  • Do your own research. Look at any recent press releases of the company and take the company at face value. Analyze the company based on existing facts. Ignore any promotion that the company is about to make a great discovery or land a great deal. Look at its prospectus and any other company information that has been filed with a securities commission or exchange to determine exactly the type of risky company that you are being lured into.
  • Just say no to risky companies. There are plenty of legitimate companies that offer growth without great risk. There is no need to invest in risky ventures when money can be made in strong companies with legitimate products and services.
  • Be true to yourself. Know what your tolerance to risk is and how much you are willing to invest and lose. If you invest in a penny stock be prepared to lose everything.

If you suspect that the phone caller aims to scam you, then write down as much information about the caller as you can discover such as:

  • his name and the name of his firm,
  • the type of investment that the caller was promoting,
  • if the broker was promoting the purchase of a stock, then the name of the company of the stock
  • the time and date of the call
  • what was said by the caller and your responses.

After the telephone call has terminated, notify your state or provincial securities office and convey the information that you collected. This will ensure others are not scammed.

If you have been scammed, then report it to the state or provincial regulator or commission to warn others and to ensure it doesn't happen to any body else.

In Canada, contact the applicable securities commission which are listed in the Investor Centre. In the US contact the North American Securities Administrators Association, Inc. (NASAA) at http://www.nasaa.org. The NASAA site lists the various state regulators.


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