Investing in international assets is a great way to diversify and strengthen your portfolio. A healthy assortment of international security assets can set you up for long term success and aid your investments in weathering market volatility. Investing in internationally-based assets is made possible through the use of American Depositary Receipts (ADRs).
An ADR is a security that represents shares of non-U.S. companies that are held by a U.S. depositary bank outside the United States. They allow you to invest in non-U.S. companies as well as provide non-U.S. companies easier access to the U.S. capital markets. Currently, there are more than 2,000 ADRs available which represent shares of companies in more than 70 countries.
While ADRs present new avenues and opportunities available to you, they – as with any security – are not without risks. As an investor, you need to perform the necessary research and due diligence on an ADR-represented security prior to investing.
Despite the apparent advantages, an unsettling trend has been emerging over the several years indicating systematic ADR abuse and mishandling, perpetrated by various large-scale investment banking firms. Not only does this pose an ethical dilemma in the investment banking community, it also both directly and indirectly fosters investment fraud.
ADR Abuse: A Chronic Issue
This week, JPMorgan Chase announced a settlement with the SEC to the tune of $135 million in light of alleged ADR abuse. The SEC complaint alleged that JPMorgan was involved in the pre-release of ADRs to broker-dealers lacking the corresponding international shares.
What may surprise you more than the settlement sum is the fact that JPMorgan does not stand alone in regard to ADR abuse allegations.
In fact, the SEC has been investigating – and bringing suits against – top international investment institutions for their alleged involvement in various ADR abuse practices. To date, the financial watchdog has brought suits against eight leading international investment banks and broker-dealers, including SG Americas, Citi and Deutsche Bank for ADR abuse practices spanning 2011-2015.
The Effects of ADR Abuse
While certain conditions regarding the pre-release of ADRs are allotted by the SEC, the vast majority of these transactions are not approved.
Pre-releasing ADRs when neither the broker nor its customers have the foreign shares needed to support those new transactions can inflate the total number of a foreign issuer’s tradeable securities, and result in abusive practices such as inappropriate short selling and dividend arbitrage.
ADR Abuse and Fraud
While investment banks and broker-dealers are solely in search of increased returns in their perpetration of ADR abuse, savvy scammers can take advantage of these investment abuses to commit investment fraud.
One such form of fraud takes the form of fraudulent short-selling, or short-and-distort fraud.
How to Spot a Short and Distort Scam
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) actually reports short and distort scams as a persistent, growing problem. The issue is that these types of scams subsist on an assumed position of authority. Essentially, theses scams are perpetrated one of two ways:
- The fraudster may hide behind false identity or present themselves as being in association with a legitimate source.
- The source of the information has legitimate authority or esteem but may be corrupted and acting to suit their own interests.
Whatever the case, it can be extremely difficult to spot these types of scams. These types of scams exploit our vulnerabilities; our doubts and trust in others.
But you can avoid falling victim to them. There are ways to spot word-of-mouth scams and investment practices you can adopt to mitigate risks.
Find out where your information is coming from
As we mentioned above, there are essentially two potential sources for short and distort scams. Whatever (or whomever) the apparent source, it’s important that you actually find out where the information you are receiving originated and to what extent that information is valid.
The internet age has made it remarkably easy for people to hide behind false names and identities. Scammers especially have been able to capitalize on access to these new technologies.
Be wary of email and/or social media campaigns
If you start seeing negative press about a stock or security online, make sure you investigate the poster.
- What is their post history? If there is limited to no prior history of posts, it’s a good sign the account was set up recently.
- Examine the content. Look for typos or inconsistencies in the text. A legitimate source of information would have a consistent tone and style.
Even if you know that the source of the information you are receiving is legitimate, you need to make sure the information itself is valid. To do this, you need to understand the motives behind that individual or entity disseminating that information.
Ask yourself what they may have to gain by sharing negative press about a stock or security. Is that person/entity taking a short-sell position? If so, that’s a clear indication of short and distort manipulation.
- Celebrity Endorsements
- We’ve all seen ads for products featuring celebrity endorsements and it’s no different with investment-based products. While celebrity endorsements are meant to lend credibility to a product, it by no means ensures a product’s legitimacy or usefulness. This is especially true with investment products. Find out more here.
- Aggressive Solicitation Practices
- Aggressive or unwarranted solicitation of services or information should be an immediate red-flag. If you have been receiving repeated calls, emails or requests for correspondence from an individual claiming to be a broker-dealer associated with your account, you need to verify they’re identity.
Do your investment due diligence
Regardless of whether a word-of-mouth scam is being perpetrated, you should always do your homework on a stock or asset before making any financial decision. Basing your decision solely off the advice of others – or worse, unsubstantiated rumors – is foolish and dangerous.
You should have a fundamental understanding of the performance and status of your investment portfolio. That way, you are able to verify the validity of negative claims against a stock or security.
If you want to find out more about ADR investing check out this helpful investor bulletin.
You don’t have to weather investment-loss on your own. If you become the victim of ADR abuse, we can help you assess your options and formulate a plan of action to recoup your losses. Contact our team today if you believe you have suffered an investment loss due to fraud.