You might not think that fraudsters impersonating the SEC would be a significant or ongoing problem but the volume of the SEC's "Investor Alerts" on this topic would seem to suggest otherwise. On August 5, 2015, the SEC issued the latest update in a series of Investor Alerts it has released entitled, "SEC Warns of Government Impersonators Demanding Money."
The SEC stated that in the most recent example of SEC impersonation, investors have received "official looking documents such as bogus subpoenas, that purport to be from the Securities and Exchange Commission demanding money for fictitious securities law violations." Apparently, these most recent scams involve fraudsters who send bogus subpoenas or other communications to people accusing them of securities law violations, and then demand that the recipients of these letters immediately send a check to the "SEC" as a penalty or disgorgement!
The SEC explained that, in fact, its enforcement process does not involve sending letters out of the blue to investors declaring them liable for securities fraud and ordering them to write a check:
The SEC does not seek money from any person or entity as a penalty or disgorgement for alleged wrongdoing outside of its formal Enforcement process. The SEC would only begin seeking money at the end of that Enforcement process, and only if a finder of fact held the person liable for the violation after the person had the opportunity to contest the charges or to settle the matter....
There have been several other Investor Alerts in recent months on the subject of "Government Impersonation." In May 2015, the SEC issued a reminder that SEC staff does not contact individuals by telephone or email for purposes such as seeking assistance with fund transfers, forwarding investment offers to them, or telling investors that they are eligible to receive disbursements from SEC or class action settlements. Nor does SEC staff send emails or make telephone calls "asking for detailed personal and financial information, such as shareholdings and PIN numbers."
In April 2015, the SEC issued an Alert warning investors that fraudsters were making unauthorized use of the SEC seal as part of their scams. The agency warned against "phony claims of endorsement by the SEC, including letters purporting to be signed by the SEC Inspector General and an SEC Commissioner, and fraudulent investment offers implying an SEC endorsement."
The reference to an SEC commissioner may be relate to an older scam that the SEC warned against back in 2012 where investors received
fraudulent solicitations that purport to be affiliated with or sponsored by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Commission staff, as well as particular Commissioners (including a recent bogus email scam using the name of Commissioner Daniel Gallagher).
Yet another attempted scam emerged in 2013 when the SEC cautioned investors to avoid a "bogus email scam using the name of Lori Schock, Director of the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy)."