You've doubtlessly seen more than a few of these messages in your email: "THE BULL REPORT! All signs show that this one is going to Explode!! Price: $0.043 (2 days - UP! 70%) 5 Day Target price: $0.15." That's a real-world example from my spam folder this morning.
As a good Fool should, you've probably immediately discarded them. These companies are usually deep in penny-stock territory, straight off the unregulated Pink Sheets, and very thinly traded. Our friendly spammers sound like they found the next Starbucks
But not all investors share your savvy, which is why this scam can work. So the SEC has decided to step in and help out a bit. Last Thursday, the commission suspended trading in 35 stocks with recent histories of heavy spam promotion for a period of 10 trading days, intending to stop the scams from making any money.
Anything that protects the little guy is welcome in my book, but I hope this effort is more than a one-shot thing. If this is going to work, the SEC needs to stay on the ball, suspending trading in new stocks almost every day. The stock being pimped in that message I quoted a few sentences ago isn't on the list of 35, and there hasn't been an update from the commission, either. According to Capital IQ, there are about 550 pink-sheet stocks trading for less than $0.50 a share, and moving fewer than 110,000 shares per day.
Operation Spamalot will only work if the SEC keeps up with the spammers, something that even experts on email operations like Microsoft
Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation, while both Starbucks and Yahoo! can call themselves Stock Advisor picks. Find more of the market's truly great stocks with a free 30-day trial or two.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund is a Hansen Natural shareholder, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. He'll confess that he does own two penny stocks, one of which has lost 98% of its value since he bought it. Go figure. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is always worth a read.