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04 Sep 2006

New twist as spammers offer to help companies cheat the stock market

"Pump-and-dumpers" say they will offer advice to armchair investors

Experts at SophosLabs™, Sophos's global network of virus, spyware and spam analysis centers, have identified a new tactic being used by spammers involved in lucrative "pump-and-dump" stock spam campaigns. These criminals are now targeting companies offering to boost their stock prices in return for payment.

Pump-and-dump scams are email campaigns which encourage people to invest in a particular company's stock, in order to quickly inflate its value and enable the spammers to make a fast profit. It is thought that these scams take place unbeknown to the company involved. Now, in a new twist seen in an email campaign discovered by SophosLabs, scammers are telling companies that they can boost their own stock prices by up to 250 percent within two to three weeks, and are even offering a one day free trial. The emails also goes on to claim that the scammers will offer advice on future share price movements to investors, for a 30 percent share of the income.

Part of the email reads:

You own an underrated stock and the market price of your stock is from 0.001 to 1$

We can increase the price of your stock and we can increase average day trading volume. We can increase price up to 200-250% in 2-3 weeks and also we can increase volume by 10 times each trading day. You don't have to pay anything in advance. First we increase the price and the volume, then you pay.

The email message offers to manipulate stock prices for companies, and provide advance warning to investors of stocks that are going to be

The email message offers to manipulate stock prices for companies, and provide advance warning to investors of stocks that are going to be "pumped" via spam campaigns.

"Not only do these crooks boost their own share price by artificially playing the market, but now they have the audacity to try and get paid for it by the companies involved," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "This twist also sees the scammers offering information on upcoming stock manipulations to investors. By actively manipulating stock prices by sending bogus information out via junk email, they have an insight into which shares are likely to shift position next. Investors must avoid these offers at all costs, as they may find themselves caught out in a criminal sting which leaves them out of pocket."

Pump-and-dump stock campaigns work by spammers purchasing stock at a cheap price and then artificially inflating its price by encouraging others to purchase more (often by spamming "good news" about the company to others). The spammers then sell off their stock at a profit. Sophos experts report that pump-and-dump stock campaigns account for approximately 15 percent of all spam, up from 0.8 percent in January 2005.

Sophos recommends companies protect themselves with a consolidated solution which can defend against the threats of spam, spyware and viruses.

About Sophos

More than 100 million users in 150 countries rely on Sophos as the best protection against complex threats and data loss. Sophos is committed to providing complete security solutions that are simple to deploy, manage, and use and that deliver the industry's lowest total cost of ownership. Sophos offers award-winning encryption, endpoint security, web, email, mobile and network security solutions backed by SophosLabs - a global network of threat intelligence centers.

Sophos is headquartered in Boston, US and Oxford, UK. More information is available at www.sophos.com.