Tag Archives: Edgar

Fake SEC Filings and Enforcement in the Electronic Age

By: George M. Wilson & Carol A. Stacey

 

Over the many decades that equity securities have traded in the U.S., and over the centuries that equities have traded around the world, unscrupulous people have always tried to find ways to cheat others. From pump and dump schemes to fake analyst reports new ways are constantly evolving as less than ethical people look for a quick buck. One of the more recently developed sneaky tricks is to create a fictitious user ID in the SEC’s EDGAR system and try to manipulate a company’s stock with fake SEC filings such as tender offer documents. In a way this is kind of a “pump and dump” strategy, and it is all about fake news.

 

In February of this year an artist in Chicago used this trick to try and manipulate Alphabet’s stock. In May 2015, Avon stock was used in a similar scheme. In September 2015, a person used an SEC filing in the name of “LMZ & Berkshire Hathaway Co.” to try and manipulate Phillips 66 and Kraft Heinz. The report was signed with a false name.

 

That same false name was used on a filing to announce a fake tender offer for Fitbit in November 2017.

 

When there are new kinds of crimes, the SEC sets out to develop the right tools and techniques to find the perpetrators and protect investors and the markets from bad actors. They are making progress with this new kind of electronic and internet based crime. On May 19, 2017, fairly soon after the Fitbit false filing, the SEC announced an enforcement action against Robert W. Murray, the alleged perpetrator of this fraud, with a parallel criminal action by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Mr. Murry is a mechanical engineer based in Virginia.

 

According to the SEC Murray wove a tangled technical trail:

 

The SEC alleges that Murray created an email account under the name of someone he found on the internet, and the email account was used to gain access to the EDGAR system.  Murray then allegedly listed that person as the CFO of ABM Capital and used a business address associated with that person in the fake filing.  The SEC also alleges that Murray attempted to conceal his identity and actual location at the time of the filing after conducting research into prior SEC cases that highlighted the IP addresses the false filers used to submit forms on EDGAR.  According to the SEC’s complaint, it appeared as though the system was being accessed from a different state by using an IP address registered to a company located in Napa, California.

 

In the words of enforcement, this attempt to hide his actions did not work:

 

“As alleged in our complaint, Murray used deceptive techniques in a concerted effort to evade detection, but we were able to connect the dots quickly and hold him accountable,” said Stephanie Avakian, Acting Director of the SEC Enforcement Division.

 

For all his effort, and for the potential consequences, Murray’s ill-gotten gains in this scheme were only about $3,100!

 

Always fun to see how new ways to try and cheat don’t evade the consequences!

 

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

 

A Year End Planning Detail – No More Mailing the ARS to the SEC!

One frequently asked question in our Workshops concerns the “10-K Wrap” or the annual report that companies prepare: Is this a required report or is it an optional investor relations “marketing” document?

Turns out it actually is required for the proxy process. When a company solicits proxies for its annual meeting, and the annual meeting includes, the election of directors, the proxy statement must be accompanied or preceded by an Annual Report to Shareholders or “ARS”.   You can find all the details about this requirement in Rule 14a-3. The Form 10-K and the ARS, however, are significantly different. The Form 10-K is a filed document while the ARS is furnished to shareholders pursuant to the proxy rules.

In this earlier post we reviewed the details of the proxy requirement for the ARS.

If you would like a refresher on the filed vs. furnished issues, check out this post.

One of the seeming anachronisms in this process is that the SEC has, even in these days of EDGAR, still required that paper copies of the ARS be sent to the SEC. This requirement is in the proxy rules. (Check out rules 14a-3(c) and Rule 14c-3(b)). Every time we talk about this requirement in our Workshops there are visions of the last scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with a huge warehouse full of boxes no one will ever open again!

 

On November 2 the SEC modernized this requirement with the following Compliance and Disclosure Interpretation:

Proxy Rules and Schedule 14A (Regarding Submission of Annual Reports to SEC under Rules 14a-3(c) and 14c-3(b))

 

Question: Exchange Act Rule 14a-3(c) and Rule 14c-3(b) require registrants to mail seven copies of the annual report sent to security holders to the Commission “solely for its information.” A similar provision in Form 10-K requires certain Section 15(d) registrants to furnish to the Commission “for its information” four copies of any annual report to security holders. Can a registrant satisfy these requirements by means other than physical delivery or electronic delivery pursuant to Rule 101(b)(1) of Regulation S-T?

Answer: Yes. The Division will not object if a company posts an electronic version of its annual report to its corporate web site by the dates specified in Rule 14a-3(c), Rule 14c-3(b) and Form 10-K respectively, in lieu of mailing paper copies or submitting it on EDGAR. If the report remains accessible for at least one year after posting, the staff will consider it available for its information. [November 2, 2016]

So, as we approach this year end we can change this process and even save some postage!

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

 

George M.  Wilson, Director, The SEC Institute & Carol A. Stacey, Director, The SEC Institute

Some XBRL News and A Few Tidbits

XBRL has not really been in the news much lately, but on March 29, 2016 the SEC released a second DERA study about tagging processes. The study, titled “Staff Observations of Custom Axis Tags” is at:

www.sec.gov/structureddata/reportspubs/osd_assessment_custom-axis-tags.html

Here is an excerpt from the introduction of the report:

As part of our ongoing process to monitor registrant compliance with the requirements to report their financial information in their eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) exhibits, staff in the SEC Division of Economic and Risk Analysis recently assessed certain aspects of the XBRL exhibits that affect the data quality of the disclosures provided. Specifically, the staff examined the use of custom axis tags in XBRL exhibits that reporting companies submitted with their annual reports on Form 10-K. An axis tag in XBRL allows a filer to divide reported elements into different dimensions (e.g., revenue by geographical area, fair value measurement levels, components of total equity (e.g., common, preferred)) while also showing the relationships between separately reported elements.

……………

The staff’s analysis resulted in a few key observations. First, unlike our previous staff observations that revealed a lower average rate of custom line item tags among large filers, staff observed a higher average use of custom axis tags as filer size increased, with the rate of custom axis tags highest for large accelerated filers. Second, for a random sample of filings that staff reviewed, staff observed instances of filers creating custom axis tags unnecessarily when an appropriate standard axis tag existed in the U.S. GAAP taxonomy.

 

This is an interesting development, and clearly demonstrates the SEC’s work to help make XBRL information more reliable and useful.

The earlier information the SEC has issued about XBRL include:

A “Dear CFO” letter about calculation structures that is at:

www.sec.gov/divisions/corpfin/guidance/xbrl-calculation-0714.htm

This earlier DERA study of extension use at:

www.sec.gov/dera/reportspubs/assessment-custom-tag-rates-xbrl.html

 

Getting XBRL Right

Next, here is a good reminder to make sure that your XBRL submissions are prepared properly and tagging is done appropriately. While XBRL is not subject to ICFR and there is no requirement for any sort of auditor review, XBRL submissions are subject to your disclosure controls and procedures. As a result you should have appropriate controls to assure that your XBRL submission:

“is recorded, processed, summarized and reported, within the time periods specified in the Commission’s rules and forms.”

The above quote is from the definition of Disclosure Controls and Procedures in Exchange Act Rule 13a-15 which is at:

www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=8e0ed509ccc65e983f9eca72ceb26753&node=17:4.0.1.1.1&rgn=div5#se17.4.240_113a_615

This requirement is highlighted in a recent Form 10-K/A filed by Goldman Sachs to make some corrections in their XBRL submission. Goldman filed their original 10-K on February 19, 2016 and on March 1, 2016 filed a Form 10-K/A. As is required by the Exchange Act Rules for amendments, Goldman included this explanatory note:

EXPLANATORY NOTE

Due to an error by our external financial printer, our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2015 (Original Form 10-K) was filed with an incorrect version of Exhibit 101, which provides items from our Original Form 10-K formatted in eXtensible Business Reporting Language.

This Amendment No. 1 on Form 10-K/A (Amendment) to our Original Form 10-K, filed on February 19, 2016, is being filed in accordance with Rule 12b-15 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 for the sole purpose of including the correct version of Exhibit 101.

This Amendment does not amend or otherwise update any other information in the Original Form 10-K and does not reflect events occurring after the date of the Original Form 10-K.

Goldman was perhaps doing something that is appropriate, which we discuss in our workshops. After the filing someone likely double checked the XBRL submission and found the problem, and they fixed it as soon as possible. This is an example of disclosure controls in action on a detective basis, and again, while the SEC has not really indicated that they will do a lot of review of XBRL submissions, we need to make sure they are done appropriately. And, who knows, it is possible the SEC pointed this out to Goldman.

 

Taxonomy Update

On March 7, 2016 the SEC updated the EDGAR system to accept the 2016 XBRL taxonomies previously released by the FASB. The announcement is at:

www.sec.gov/structureddata/announcement/osd-announcement-030716—xbrl-taxonomy-update.html

 

Using XBRL Information

While we still don’t hear a lot about users taking advantage of all the information in the XBRL database, user tools are continuing to evolve. One tool that provides a nice way to access and use XBRL data comes from a company called Calcbench. If you do peer group analysis or are searching for comparable disclosures, this is a very useful tool. You can learn more at:

www.calcbench.com

 

As usual your thoughts and comments, including any insights you have about people using XBRL or XBRL user tools, is welcome!