With the recent release of the Netflix true crime documentary, “The Tinder Swindler,” public attention to a unique form of financial fraud is growing, as is the number of lawsuits filed against the film’s subject, Simon Leviev.

The documentary chronicles the experiences of three innocent victims of the so-called “Tinder Swindler.” [1] These women each met Leviev over online dating platforms, and as their individual relationships grew, each woman faced widespread deception, collectively costing them millions of dollars. [2] In fact, not even Leviev’s name was genuine – although Simon Leviev is currently the perpetrator’s legal name, he was born Shimon Hayut, and only changed his name in an effort to prop up his fraudulent schemes by posing as the son of a powerful diamond tycoon. [1]

Leviev’s schemes operated in an established pattern, wherein each victim provided the financial means necessary to support Leviev’s lavish lifestyle, thus allowing him to attract new victims. Leviev posed as the son of the mega-rich diamond tycoon, Lev Leviev, on Tinder, setting the bait for his unsuspecting victims. Once he matched with a potential victim, Leviev’s deception began. First, Leviev flaunted his supposed wealth by inviting victims for trips on private planes, to expensive clubs, and to five star hotels across the globe. [4]

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Early this month, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the indictment of five defendants, each of whom have been charged in connection with an $8.4 million “boiler room” and money laundering scheme. [1] In addition to the DOJ’s criminal indictment of the group, the Securities and Exchange Commission also filed a civil case seeking injunctions and civil penalties. [2]

“Boiler room” operations are fraudulent schemes in which high-pressure, coercive sales tactics are used to induce clients into purchasing stocks or other investments. [3] Often, these operations consist of groups of salespeople working from offices in foreign countries who cold-call clients in an attempt to defraud them. [3] The salespeople involved in boiler room schemes are rarely licensed brokers, and the stocks they purport to sell may not exist at all. [3]

In the instant case, the DOJ alleges that the defendants conspired to commit securities fraud when they engaged in a boiler room scheme involving fake investment firms and shell companies used to mislead investors. [1] The alleged scheme operated from approximately June 2019 until August 2021, and defrauded English-speaking investors across the globe of more than $8 million. [4]

Electric automaker, Tesla, and its CEO, Elon Musk, made headlines once again this week in connection with a 2018 Twitter post. The tweet in question, posted by Elon Musk, read simply: “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.”[1]

At the time the tweet was posted in 2018, the SEC swiftly charged both Tesla and Musk with securities fraud, over which the parties eventually settled. [1] Now more than three years later, the public has learned of a new subpoena from the SEC relating to the tweet, though the subpoena’s impact and strategic aim are still to be seen.

As evidenced by this series of events, Tesla and the SEC share a turbulent, history. Following the 2018 “funding secured” tweet, the SEC alleged that Musk violated Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 along with rule 10b-5.[2] These allegations were based upon the SEC’s contention that the tweet constituted a materially false and misleading statement because despite Musk’s confident tone, he had neither discussed nor confirmed the terms of such a deal with any potential funding source. [2]

The SEC is attempting to broaden the scope of liability under federal insider trading laws, and it just secured its first incremental victory along the way.

The win comes as a newly formulated legal theory offered by the SEC survived a motion to dismiss in SEC v. Panuwat, a case proceeding in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.[1] The SEC’s legal theory states that the practice of “shadow trading” constitutes a violation of federal securities law, namely Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5.[1]

“Shadow trading” occurs when a person with a connection to one publicly held company uses material, nonpublic information (MNPI) they have gained from their connection with that company to inform their trading decisions in a separate publicly held company. Typically, this separate company is economically connected in some way to the company for which the person possesses MNPI. [2]

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When it comes to insider trading, corporate executives are often the first offenders that come to mind. Recently, however, public attention has shifted toward the investing activity of members of Congress as potential instances of illegal insider trading.

Members of Congress are inherently privy to more information about in-process legislation, forthcoming policy shifts, and potential economic impacts than the average market participant. [1] Such “insider” knowledge is a direct result of the duties entailed in a lawmaker’s job, and some argue this insider position presents an unmistakable conflict of interest. [1]

Congress previously sought to address this conflict of interest with its passage of the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge (“STOCK”) in April 2012. [2] At its most distilled, the STOCK Act explicitly made congressional insider trading illegal, and put in place disclosure requirements for each individual stock trade made by a member of Congress. [2] Prior to the passage of this law, insider trading – that is, trading by members of Congress based on material, nonpublic information – had been perfectly legal. [2]

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Peloton Interactive Inc. (“Peloton”) is making headlines this month – but not for the reasons its shareholders might hope. After reaching a peak of $162 per share at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in December 2020, Peloton’s share price now sits at just $27. [1]

While the driving factors behind this downturn are many, the impact of the pandemic is undeniable. As an at-home exercise equipment company with the ability to connect users from their homes across the world via real-time classes, it’s no wonder the company and its stock soared through 2020’s COVID-19 lockdowns. Less clear, as of now, is Peloton’s staying power as consumer demand wanes, leading the company to hire consultants at McKinsey & Co. to review finances and to halt production on several of its models. [2]

In light of Peloton’s precipitous fall, some have turned their attention to massive stock sales undertaken by Peloton insiders before the downturn began. SEC filings from late 2020 and into 2021 show that insiders at Peloton sold approximately $500 million in stock before the price began to plummet. [3]

While the dust settles on the recent trial of Elizabeth Holmes, former CEO of Silicon Valley startup Theranos, attention is building around the Securities and Exchange Commission’s current and future role in regulating private firms.

Under existing federal law, private firms with less than 2,000 shareholders are not required to register with the SEC nor provide routine disclosures, unlike their public counterparts. [1]

While exemption from such regulatory requirements may provide private startup companies with the freedom to develop their business unimpeded by government, thus encouraging valuable innovation, the rapid growth of the private capital market has experts questioning whether some degree of SEC oversight may be warranted.

As 2021 draws to a close, it is a fitting time to revisit some of the main enforcement actions taken by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) through fiscal year (FY) 2021, which ended on September 30th, 2021.

In total, the number of new enforcement actions filed by the SEC in FY 2021 increased by 7% over the previous year, with 434 new enforcement actions. While the total number of enforcement actions – including new actions along with other “follow-on” or open proceedings  – decreased slightly year over year in FY 2021, the SEC remained committed to its role as “cop on the beat for America’s securities laws,” as described by Chair Gary Gensler. [1] The SEC maintained a sharp focus on protecting the integrity of the country’s capital markets through enforcement actions against bad actors even in the face of the persisting COVID-19 pandemic persisted.

In announcing its progress on enforcement actions during FY 2021, the SEC concentrated on several key priority areas. Some of these priority areas, per a recent SEC Press Release, included “holding individuals accountable,” “ensuring gatekeepers live up to their obligations,” “rooting out misconduct in crypto,” “policing financial fraud and issuer disclosure,” “cracking down on insider trading and market manipulation,” and “swiftly acting to protect investors.” [1]

While investors should always be alert and even skeptical of unsolicited communications about their investments, an SEC investor alert from November 19, 2021, further highlights how important this vigilance is.

According to the alert provided by the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy (“OIEA”),  the SEC has received reports of several individuals receiving communications from people posing as SEC personnel. Whether these communications come in the form of emails, phone calls, or letters, the SEC warns investors that they are “in no way connected to the SEC.” [1]

The fraudulent phone and voicemail messages are particularly misleading because they come from phone numbers that appear to be connected to the SEC. [1] The communications have targeted victims by raising investment-related concerns, such as “suspicious activity” in both checking and cryptocurrency accounts.[1]

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