In response to a recent proliferation of fraudulent investment schemes perpetrated over social media platforms, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released an Investor Alert covering “Social Media and Investment Fraud” this week. 
The Investor Alert, released by the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy, highlights the unique dangers investors face when evaluating investment prospects and making investment decisions via social media platforms or over the internet. In particular, the alert warns investors that investment information portrayed on social media may be “inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading.” 
Furthermore, the alert cautions that the broad-reaching and low-cost nature of social media can create “false impression of consensus or legitimacy” of investment prospects, creating the illusion that far more people are making the investment than truly are. 
More specifically, the Investment Alert sheds light on several common schemes used by fraudsters to target and take advantage of unsuspecting investors online. These schemes include impersonation schemes, “crypto” investment scams, and romance scams. 
Impersonation schemes are often, and easily, perpetrated over social media because social media platforms allow fraudsters to create false or misleading profiles.  For example, a fraudster might create a social media account impersonating a legitimate broker or investment adviser.  The fraudster can then use their false identity to convince investors to make investment decisions which enrich the fraudster at the investor’s expense.
As a result, social media users should be wary of investment opportunities communicated solely over social media platforms. Investors are urged to look out for typos within a supposed broker or adviser’s profile page or messages, as well as by considering whether or not the social media platform has “verified” the user as person they claim to be. 
Crypto investment scams are also on the rise, given the continued popularity of cryptocurrencies and their relative novelty. These scams often sound “too good to be true” and may take the form of a Ponzi or pyramid scheme involving crypto or the blockchain, promising low or no risk with high investment returns.  If an investor chooses to invest in cryptocurrency, the credentials of the investment opportunity can be investigated by using the search tool provided by the investor.gov website. 
Finally, online romance scams have also become increasingly prevalent in recent years. This type of scheme typically starts with a fake dating app or social media profile, which reaches out to a victim to begin the trust-building process. Once a relationship of trust has been created, the fraudster behind the fake profile will begin to inform the victim about supposedly lucrative cryptocurrency or other investment opportunities. 
Because trust has been built over time, victims may be more likely to believe the fraudster and funnel their hard earned money into one of these fraudulent investment scams.
Along with providing background information on each of the fraudulent schemes discussed here, the SEC’s Investment Alert provide additional information on market manipulation schemes and community-based investment fraud schemes. 
The overarching takeaway from this Investor Alert is clear: fraudsters are increasingly using social media and other online platforms to take advantage of unsuspecting investors, and their schemes are only becoming more creative.
Investors should remember that online platforms allow fraudsters to easily fabricate and disperse misleading investment information to the masses. Often, the best way to protect an investment is through careful research into any investment opportunity. Per the Investor Alert, a heavy dose of skepticism when an opportunity sounds “too good to be true” goes a long way.
If you have a question or concern about an existing investment or investment opportunity, reach out to the attorneys at Savage-Villoch law.