In recent days, a lot of investors -- presumably, those who have lives and therefore don't monitor their holdings minute to minute -- have been waking up to the alarming fact that their stocks have vanished. Or if not actually "vanished," they're not where the investors left them.

According to a report published Monday in TheWall Street Journal, the tally of Nasdaq-listed stocks and NYSE-listed companies that have, for one reason or another, missed their filing deadlines and are therefore non-compliant with the rules for remaining listed, stands at 32-32. And that's expected to rise after a key filing deadline expires April 16.

Owners of NYSE-listed stocks are the "lucky" ones in this regard. Because their stocks can't have ticker symbols more than three letters long, the NYSE doesn't tag its offenders with special symbols. In contrast, more than three dozen Nasdaq-listed stocks have already been branded with the letter "E" (for "Excuse me. Where's your 10-K?"). The list of offenders runs from the large and famous, notably Veritas (NASDAQ:VRTSE), to the somewhat smaller and less famous, such as Impax Labs (NASDAQ:IPXLE), Ligand Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:LGNDE), and Autobytel (NASDAQ:ABTLE). But, primarily, the Es seem to be gravitating to low-profile microcaps like computer maker Xybernaut (NASDAQ:XYBRE), discount telecom YAK Communications (NASDAQ:YAKCE), and UNIX owner SCO Group (NASDAQ:SCOXE).

The adding of the "extra E" serves two purposes, only one of which is to confound and bemuse shareholders who blinked at the wrong time. The other purpose is to shake those investors out of their slumber, to get their attention and let them know that all may not be right at their companies. In short, to warn them that they'd best take a look at what their investment has been up to. (One wonders, however, whether playing "hide the ticker" is the best way to convey this message, given that most of us have our news feeds tied to the "pre-E" names.)

In any case, if you've recently tried in vain to look up a quote on that little stock you heard about from your cousin Fred last year, the one you bought a few hundred shares of and then forgot about, this just might be the reason why.

Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any of the companies mentioned in this article.