The Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission have charged eight social media influencers with touting $100 million worth of stocks and selling their shares.
The influencers used the platforms Twitter and Discord, known for its gaming and stock chat rooms, as well as podcasts, for their pump-and-dump scheme, according to the SEC’s securities fraud complaint.
While the influencers are not household names, each has at least 100,000 Twitter followers, the SEC said. The most popular, Perry Matlock, who goes by the handle of “PJ Matlock,” had 340,000 Twitter followers.
Two others were Thomas Cooperman, aka “ohheytommy,” and Garry Deel, aka “Mystery Mac” and “notoriousalerts.”
The influencers manipulated stock prices by promoting themselves as successful investors to their hundreds of thousands of followers starting in January 2020. Claiming that their investments were boosting their wealth, the crooks routinely posted photos of themselves enjoying their newfound money in exotic locations and with luxury sports cars, according to the SEC.
The fraudsters then regularly sold the stocks once their value appreciated to price targets that they had plugged without any merit, the SEC said.
The accused took advantage of “novice investors with manipulative statements” to fabricate “fraudulent profits,” said Joseph Sansone, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s market abuse unit.
“Today’s action exposes the true motivation of those alleged fraudsters and serves as another warning that investors should be wary of unsolicited advice they encounter online,” Sansone added.
The Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas have also filed criminal charges against all eight individuals. The SEC filed its civil charges in the same Texas district.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority aided the SEC and the Justice Department in their investigation.
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