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We found more than accounts at Yahoo. But on Monday Oct. The touters posted more than 70 messages on StockTwits and Yahoo between They continued posting into the evening and early the next morning Oct. The so-called sock puppet accounts at StockTwits have generated roughly 4, messages since May — nearly all of them focused on the same 15 or so companies.
The existence of the touting operation is another red flag for investors who might be eyeing Kandi, which is based in Jinhua and makes electric cars, go-karts, all-terrain vehicles and other products. Paul Kelley played in the reverse mergers that brought Kandi and 10 other Chinese companies public. Kelley and another defendant, Roger D. It said one of the defendants, George Tazbaz, later provided that same number of shares to stock promoters.
Kandi disclosed in March that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating the company and had subpoenaed certain documents. It said in its latest quarterly financial report, on Aug. Mark Cuban, majority owner of Sharesleuth. Chris Carey, editor of Sharesleuth, does not invest in individual stocks and has no position in Kandi.
We found that Platon D. Petratos, a stock promoter whose criminal record includes arrests on drug and theft charges, has been one of the busiest posters on the Kandi boards. Nor has he disclosed whether anyone is paying him for his efforts.
Instead, Petratos claims to be a large Kandi shareholder. We noted that some of the fictitious StockTwits accounts posted messages that were identical — or nearly identical — to those posted by Petratos. So did several of the Yahoo accounts we identified as being part of the touting network. Its share price reached a new high on July 22, following a string of favorable announcements related to its electric car business in China.
Among other things, the company said that its joint venture with Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. Coincidentally or not, that was the last full day that the fake accounts teamed up to tout Kandi. It dropped even more sharply on Aug. That represented a nearly 10 percent dilution for existing shareholders.
We noted that the runup and tout campaign in June also came just before a private placement. Two weeks later, the company sold 4. Sharesleuth has been keeping a close watch on the Kandi message boards for the past two months, documenting the connections between posters.
We noticed that on certain days, the related accounts combined to generate a high percentage of the chatter.
Here is one example of Petratos and two of the sock-puppet posters initiating five consecutive discussion topics on the Yahoo board in a period of 17 minutes:. That same day, Petratos and 14 of the accounts that we identified as fictitious posted about Kandi at StockTwits, a social media site popular with professional traders, individual investors and other market watchers.
Kandi released its quarterly earnings on Aug. On Aug 20, Petratos and the fake accounts on StockTwits kicked into high gear again, posting nearly 80 messages about Kandi between 7 a. Many of the same messages were reposted on Yahoo. Petratos and the fake accounts continued posting after the markets closed, predicting additional gains. The StockTwits and Yahoo posters continued posting in earnest on the morning of Aug. Then, in the early afternoon, the stock took a sharp downward turn.
Our analysis suggests that the accounts at StockTwits and Yahoo are controlled by a relatively small number of people. In addition, our review found numerous instances where he was online and posting at the same time as the fake accounts — sometimes in the middle of the night.
We found that certain fake Yahoo accounts tended to make the initial postings about Kandi on that board. Others were used mainly to post replies, creating the impression of broader investor interest and ensuring that selected discussion threads stayed near the top of the message boards.
We identified several accounts whose only messages over the past few years were responses to those from other accounts we flagged as fictitious. Kandi has a relatively low percentage of institutional ownership and no U. The tout posts also showed up on the Kandi pages at Reuters.
People opening accounts must have a verified email address and cannot open multiple accounts using the same address, Paterno said. Yahoo says it relies on message board users to report questionable activity to its customer care department.
Yahoo monitors posts that are the subject of complaints. It reserves the right to remove messages or ban accounts that do not comply with its guidelines or terms of service.. Petratos, 55, has worked in investor relations or stock promotion for more than a decade.
The release identified him as managing director of Icor Relations, a Miami-based firm. The company disappeared in a reverse merger in GARB , which said it was in the waste-to-energy business. However, regulatory filings show that the Utah-based company generated no revenue in , or Garb announced last year that a new ownership group had acquired a majority stake in the company.
Its most recent stock price was a fraction of a penny. PSP Venture sponsored a private Yahoo group called Wealthy Penny, which functioned as a live chat room during trading hours. It also operated Penny Safari, which featured profiles of microcap companies. OPMG , which used singer Justin Beiber to promote a phone app that it said could block drivers from texting while behind the wheel.
Although Treaty claimed in to have struck oil in Belize, the company never announced any production from the property and the project at became bogged down in litigation. It is delinquent in its SEC filings, and as of the last quarterly report, it had yet to report any revenue. Petratos has posted messages on the Kandi boards at StockTwits and Yahoo suggesting that other investors buy shares in the company.
He said in a posting this month that he and other investors have injected new capital into Treaty Energy. VOIS , which claims to be developing technology that would allow users to control computers through electrical activity in the brain. Price and volume summaries show that more than 1. Sharesleuth found that Petratos has a criminal history that include charges for drug possession and drug trafficking in Florida in the s, and a conviction for theft in that resulted in a five-month jail sentence.
The following year, he entered into a withheld adjudication agreement on the possession of cocaine charge, and prosecutors did not proceed with the other charges. Under a withheld adjudication agreement, a defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest, with the understanding that he or she will be sentenced to probation.
If the defendant completes the probation successfully, no judgment goes on his or her record. For reasons that are not clear from the docket sheet, the case took more than five years to wend its way through the legal system. In July , Petratos changed his plea to guilty and was sentenced to five months in jail. He was credited with 50 days of time served in connection with an earlier stay behind bars. Records show that Petratos was arrested again on theft charges in , but prosecutors did not go forward with that case.
We identified the related accounts at StockTwits by comparing the dates and times of their posts, as well as their writing styles. For example, the profile for a StockTwits account with the nickname Bulltrader showed that it was following 16 of the other accounts we identified as fictitious.
On the evening of Aug. The next morning, Bulltrader posted an message on StockTwits with the identical subject line. We also noted that when Petratos took a six-day break from posting on StockTwits in mid-July, Bulltrader took a long break, too. Threads for those accounts showed that none of them posted anything on StockTwits from July 17 to July Our review of the StockTwits accounts showed that Petratos, as Bullmarkethobo, posted five messages about Kandi between 1 a.
Three of the other accounts we flagged as fictitious also posted messages between 2 a. Our review also found that Petratos posted a message on InvestorsHub at 1: Eastern time on Aug. We also noted that one of the fake StockTwit accounts linked to the campaign used a similar identity, larrystonetrades.
After identifying the related posters on StockTwits, we checked to see whether identical, or nearly identical, messages had been posted at Yahoo. We also looked to see what other companies besides Kandi the people behind those accounts had been posting about, and found that nearly all of their messages over the past few years focused on the same 15 or so stocks.
Finally, we looked to see which other Yahoo posters interacted frequently with the ones that reposted the messages from the fictitious StockTwits accounts. That led to dozens of additional Yahoo accounts that appear to exist primarily to respond to the main posters. Sharesleuth is not suggesting that any of those companies are responsible for the touting campaigns. The fake accounts also have been posting about Tesla Motors Inc. But those companies are so big and have such large trading volumes that postings on message boards are unlikely to have an impact on their shares.
As we noted previously, most, if not all, of the sock-puppet accounts at StockTwits used false names for the purported holders. We traced four to the Facebook page of an Ohio woman, whose own name previously was appropriated for two Yahoo accounts.
The profile for the account showed that it had generated more than posts. The StockTwits accounts that incorporated the names of some of her Facebook friends were created after that. We found that the head shots used as profile pictures on many of the StockTwits accounts were pilfered from other sites. For example, the photo for a poster using the name John Lewis actually was a head shot of Andy Heller, an Atlanta-based real estate investor.
The photo for another poster who used the name Mark Roman was taken from a column by Aaron Robinson, an editor at Car and Driver magazine. In mid-September, Sharesleuth posted two messages of our own on StockTwits, asking some of the touters to contact us about their activities. Instead of responding, they began changing their profiles and assuming new identities.
Within 72 hours, more than two-thirds of the 38 accounts that we were tracking had been renamed.