The Internet allows individuals or companies to communicate with a large audience without spending a lot of time, effort, or money. Anyone can reach tens of thousands of people by building an Internet Web site, posting a message on an online bulletin board, entering a discussion in a live “chat” room, or sending mass e-mails. It’s easy for fraudsters to make their messages look real and credible. But it’s nearly impossible for investors to tell the difference between fact and fiction. Offering frauds come in many different forms. Generally speaking, an offering fraud involves a security of some sort that is offered to the public, where the terms of the offer are materially misrepresented. The offerings, which can be made online, may make misrepresentations about the likelihood of a return. For example, in a recent case, Securities and Exchange Commission v. Imperia Invest IBC , the fraudsters allegedly used a website to offer investors a “guaranteed return” of 1.2% per day. Other online offerings may not be fraudulent per se, but may nonetheless fail to comply with the applicable registration provisions of the federal securities laws. While the federal securities laws require the registration of solicitations or “offerings,” some offerings are exempt. Always determine if a securities offering is registered with the SEC or a state, or is otherwise exempt from registration, before investing.
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