US SEC, 13 March 2020
The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced charges against Denis Georgiyevich Sotnikov and entities he controlled for allegedly participating in a fraudulent scheme to lure U.S. investors into buying fictitious Certificates of Deposit (CDs) promoted through internet advertising and “spoofed” websites that mimic the actual sites of legitimate financial institutions.
According to the SEC’s complaint, the scheme involved purchasing internet ads that targeted investors who were searching for CDs with high rates. The ads allegedly included links to phony websites, which falsely claimed that the firms offering the CDs were members of FINRA and the FDIC, and that deposits were FDIC-insured. When investors called the phone number on the websites, an “account executive” impersonating a real registered representative directed investors to wire funds to so-called “clearing” partners. These alleged clearing partners were entities used by Sotnikov to launder and misappropriate investor funds. Since November 2014, the alleged scheme involved spoofing the websites of at least 24 actual financial firms or using at least 8 fictitious entities, resulting in over $26 million in known investor losses – with many of those losses from older investors who used their retirement savings.
“As alleged in our complaint, investors were swindled out of millions of dollars through a web of fake websites and concealed identities,” said SEC Enforcement Division Co-Director Steven Peikin. “Today’s action shows the SEC’s commitment to exposing sophisticated cyber fraud schemes that pose an ever-present risk to Main Street investors.”
“Investors should be wary of investment opportunities from websites found only through internet searches,” added SEC Enforcement Division Co-Director Stephanie Avakian. “Online investments that sound too good to be true are red flags of fraud.”