What's So Important About Public Information?Many of the microcap companies that don't file reports with the SEC are legitimate businesses with real products or services. Even in the absence of fraud, a lack of public information about a company can make investing in its stock more risky because the prices that are quoted for the stock are less likely to accurately reflect the risks and opportunities associated with the company and its business. In addition, stocks of such companies may trade only in small volumes.Of potentially greater concern is that the lack of reliable, readily available information about some microcap companies can open the door to fraud. It's easier for fraudsters to manipulate a stock when there's little or no information available about the company. Fraud involving microcap stocks often depends on spreading false information. Here's how some fraudsters carry out their scams: Email Spam Fraudsters distribute junk e-mail or "spam" over the Internet to spread false information quickly and cheaply about a microcap company to thousands of potential investors. Spam allows the unscrupulous to target many more potential investors than cold calling or mass mailing.Internet Fraud Fraudsters often use aliases on Internet bulletin boards and chat rooms to hide their identities and post messages urging investors to buy stock in microcap companies based on supposedly "inside" information about impending developments at the companies. For more information about Internet fraud and on-line investing, read Internet Fraud and Tips for Online Investing: What You Need to Know About Trading in Fast-Moving Markets.Paid Promoters Some microcap companies pay stock promoters to recommend or "tout" the microcap stock in supposedly independent and unbiased investment newsletters, research reports, or radio and television shows. Paid promoters are generally behind the unsolicited "junk" faxes, e-mail messages, or high-end glossy mailers you may receive, touting a microcap company. The federal securities laws require the publications to disclose who paid them for the promotion, the amount, and the type of payment. But many fraudsters fail to do so and mislead investors into believing they are receiving independent advice."Boiler Rooms" and Cold Calling Dishonest brokers set up "boiler rooms" where a small army of high-pressure salespeople use banks of telephones to make cold calls to as many potential investors as possible. These strangers hound investors to buy "house stocks" - stocks that the firm buys or sells as a market maker or has in its inventory. To learn more about cold calling, read Cold Calling - Know Your Rights.Questionable Press Releases Fraudsters often issue press releases that contain exaggerations or lies about the microcap company's sales, acquisitions, revenue projections, or new products or services. These fraudulent press releases are then disseminated through legitimate financial news portals on the Internet.Microcap fraud schemes can take a variety of forms. Here's a description of the most common schemes:The Classic "Pump and Dump" Scheme It's common to see messages posted on the Internet that urge readers to buy a stock quickly or to sell before the price goes down, or a telemarketer will call using the same sort of pitch. Often the promoters will claim to have "inside" information about an impending development or to use an "infallible" combination of economic and stock market data to pick stocks. In reality, they may be company insiders or paid promoters who stand to gain by selling their shares after the stock price is pumped up by the buying interest they create. Once these fraudsters sell their shares and stop hyping the stock, the price typically falls, and investors lose moneyThe Latest Variation of the "Pump and Dump" Scheme Some people are finding that they have received a "misdialed" call from a stranger, leaving a "hot" investment tip for a friend. The message is designed to sound as if the speaker didn't realize that he or she was leaving the hot tip on the wrong answering machine. If you get a message like this, it's not a wrong number at all. Instead, it is from someone who is being paid to leave these messages on a whole lot of answering machines. Check out "Wrong Numbers" and Stock Tips on Your Answering Machine for more information and to hear one of these scams.The OffShore Scam Under a rule known as "Regulation S," companies do not have to register stock they sell outside the United States to foreign or "off-shore" investors. In the typical off-shore scam, an unscrupulous microcap company sells unregistered Reg S stock at a deep discount to fraudsters posing as foreign investors. These fraudsters then sell the stock to U.S. investors at inflated prices and share the resulting profits with company insiders. The flow of unregistered stock into the U.S. eventually causes the price to drop, leaving unsuspecting U.S. investors with losses.How Do I Get Information About Microcap Companies?If you're working with a broker or an investment adviser, you can ask your investment professional if the company files reports with the SEC and to provide you written information about the company and its business, finances, and management. Be sure to carefully read any prospectus and the company's latest financial reports. Remember that unsolicited e-mails, message board postings and company news releases should never be used as the sole basis for your investment decisions. You can also get information on your own from these sources: From the company Ask the company if it is registered with the SEC and files reports with the SEC. If the company is small and unknown to most people, you should also call your state securities regulator to get information about the company, its management, and the brokers or promoters who've encouraged you to invest in the company.From the SEC A great many companies must file their reports with the SEC. Using the SEC’s EDGAR database at http://www.sec.gov/edgar.shtml, you can find out whether a company files with the SEC and get any reports in which you're interested. For companies that do not file on EDGAR, use the SEC’s online form at https://www.sec.gov/cgi-bin/request_public_docs or email the SEC's Public Information Office at firstname.lastname@example.org to see whether the company has filed an offering circular under Reg A.From your state securities regulator We strongly urge you to contact your state securities regulator to find out whether they have information about a company and the people behind it. Look in the government section of your phone book or visit the website of the North American Securities Administrators Association at http://www.nasaa.org/ to get the name and phone number. Even though the company does not have to register its securities with the SEC, it may have to register them with your state. Your regulator will tell you whether the company has been legally cleared to sell securities in your state.From other government regulators Many companies, such as banks, do not have to file reports with the SEC. But banks must file updated financial information with their banking regulators. Visit the Federal Reserve System's National Information Center site at www.ffiec.gov/nicpubweb/nicweb/nichome.aspx, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency at www.occ.treas.gov, or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation at www.fdic.gov.From reference books and commercial databases Visit your local public library or the nearest law or business school library. You'll find many reference materials containing information about companies. You can also access commercial databases for more information about the company's history, management, products or services, revenues, and credit ratings. The SEC cannot recommend or endorse any particular research firm, its personnel, or its products. But there are a number of commercial resources you may consult, including: Bloomberg, Dun & Bradstreet, Hoover's Profiles, Lexis-Nexis, and Standard & Poor's Corporate Profiles. Ask your librarian about additional resources.The Secretary of State Where the Company Is Incorporated Contact the secretary of state where the company is incorporated to find out whether the company is a corporation in good standing. You may also be able to obtain copies of the company's incorporation papers and any annual reports it files with the state. Please visit the National Association of Secretaries of State website at www.nass.org for contact information regarding a particular Secretary of State.Caution If you've been asked to invest in a company but you can't find any record that the company has registered its securities with the SEC or your state, or that it's exempt from registration, call or write your state's securities regulator or submit a complaint to the SEC at http://www.sec.gov/complaint/select.shtml immediately with all the details. You may have come face-to-face with a scam.