Magazine article Newsweek

My Secret Life as a Penny-Stock Tout

Magazine article Newsweek

My Secret Life as a Penny-Stock Tout

Article excerpt

Byline: Steven Levy

Gotten any spam lately? Of course you have. Despite blockers, blacklists, whitelists and even federal regulation, those infuriating incursions on your in box continue. Now let me ask a more embarrassing question: gotten any spam from me lately? It may well be that some of your unwelcome e-mail, specifically touting hot investments in obscure microcap companies, appear to have been sent by someone whose Internet address comes from the domain stevenlevy.com. If you check it out, you will indeed find that the owner of that domain is not the ESPN sportscaster, the Suffolk (N.Y.) county executive or the University of California, Berkeley, quarterback, but moi .

In truth, I'm innocent. My domain name is being used as a phony return address by spammers wishing to hide the real origin of their come-ons. I discovered this when I suddenly began receiving dozens of bounced e-mail messages and out-of-office replies referencing mail I hadn't sent. (My ISP forwards all stevenlevy.com mail directly to me.) Sometimes the original message was sent along, and to my horror, each one was a carnival-barker plea to buy the penny stock of some obscure enterprise, like the tiny company with some mineral rights in British Columbia that was shifting its focus to entertainment and media opportunities in China.

Sometimes the message has a fine-print disclaimer noting that the person touting the stock is being remunerated, often with massive amounts of stock, for hyping up its prospects. Such propriety seems odd, because the act of sending e-mail with a hijacked return address is itself a crime under the federal 2003 CAN-SPAM Act. From my point of view, it's like being robbed by someone who takes pains to make sure that the gun used in the heist is legally registered.

John Reed Stark, the Securities and Exchange Commission's chief of Internet enforcement, thinks it's a positive step that the spammers are including the disclaimers, required by an SEC rule that dictates disclosure in stock solicitations. …

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