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SEC Suspends Trade On 35 Companies In Pump-And-Dump Crackdown

The SEC's largest wave of trading suspensions ever is part of the commission's new Operation Spamalot.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has suspended trading on 35 companies that have been touted in recent spam campaigns.

The trading suspensions -- the most ever aimed at spammed companies -- were ordered because of questions regarding the adequacy and accuracy of information about the companies, according to an advisory put out by the SEC on Thursday.

The suspensions are part of what the SEC is calling a stepped-up effort -- code named Operation Spamalot -- to protect investors from the burgeoning number of pump-and-dump e-mail schemes that are buffeting the Internet. Pump-and-dump refers to potentially fraudulent spam that hypes small company stocks with phrases like "Ready to Explode," "Ride the Bull," and "Fast Money." The spammers invest in these generally low-cost stocks before the spam campaign begins. Once people are duped into buying the stocks, the share prices go up and the spammers sell off and cash in. The sell-offs, though, usually drive the stock prices down, and the other investors lose their shirts.

The SEC estimates that 100 million pump-and-dump spam messages are sent every week, triggering dramatic spikes and then drops in share prices and trading volume.

"When spam clogs our mailboxes, it's annoying. When it rips off investors, it's illegal and destructive," said SEC chairman Christopher Cox, in a written statement. "Today's trading suspensions, and actions that will follow, should send a clear message to spammers: The SEC will hold you accountable."

Mark K. Schonfeld, director of the SEC's northeast regional office, said this is the beginning of a new tactic to battle fraudulent spam.

"By halting trading in these stocks, we are seeking to protect investors from further harm," he said in a written statement. "But this is only the first step. Our investigation of the perpetrators -- the people behind this misconduct -- is continuing."

Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant with Sophos, says the increasing quantity and sophistication of pump-and-dump campaigns is a good tell that spammers are making plenty of money off the scams.

"The SEC won't have made a decision like this lightly," Cluley adds. "They're clearly worried that investors are in danger of being conned by the commonly encountered spam campaigns to invest in usually fairly comatose penny stocks. The fortunes that can be made through pump-and-dump campaigns are enormous, and -- if caught -- those responsible for the stock market manipulation can receive substantial fines and jail sentences," he says.

Richard Stiennon, a chief officer with antivirus firewall manufacturer Fortinet, says he's glad the SEC has taken this step. "Let the dust settle while they get to the bottom of it," he says. "I don't think the schemes are going to significantly hurt the market, but they're extremely dangerous to the people who are investing in them. Big money is being lost on penny stocks."

The 35 companies whose trading was suspended today are:

Advanced Powerline Technologies Inc. (APWL)
America Asia Petroleum Corp. (AAPM)
Amerossi Int'l Group Inc. (AMSN)
Apparel Manufacturing Associates Inc. (APPM)
Asgard Holdings Inc. (AGHG)
Biogenerics Ltd. (BIGN)
China Gold Corp. (CGDC)
CTR Investments & Consulting Inc. (CIVX)
DC Brands International Inc. (DCBI)
Equal Trading Inc. (EQTD)
Equitable Mining Corp. (EQBM)
Espion International Inc. (EPLJ)
Goldmark Industries Inc. (GDKI)
GroFeed Inc. (GFDI)
Healtheuniverse Inc. (HLUN)
Interlink Global Corp. (ILKG)
Investigative Services Agencies Inc. (IVAY)
iPackets International Inc. (IPKL)
Koko Petroleum Inc. (KKPT)
Leatt Corp. (LEAT)
LOM Logistics Inc. (LOMJ)
Modern Energy Corp. (MODR)
National Healthcare Logistics Inc. (NHLG)
Presidents Financial Corp. (PZFC)
Red Truck Entertainment Inc. (RTRK)
Relay Capital Corp. (RLYC)
Rodedawg International Industries Inc. (RWGI)
Rouchon Industries Inc. (RCHN)
Software Effective Solutions Corp. (SFWJ)
Solucorp Industries Ltd. (SLUP)
Sports-stuff.com Inc. (SSUF)
UBA Technology Inc. (UBTG)
Wataire Industries Inc. (WTAF)
WayPoint Biomedical Holdings Inc. (WYPH)
Wineco Productions Inc. (WNCP)

The trading suspensions will last for 10 business days, the SEC reports. They will end at 11:59 p.m. EDT on March 21.

For more information, the SEC has set up a detailed Web site.

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