A Melbourne share trader who used online posts to pump up share prices, then sell them for inflated prices, has become the first person in Australia to be convicted over a “pump and dump” scheme.
Gabriel Govinda, known online as Fibonarchery, used 13 different share trading accounts in the names of friends and relatives to manipulate the share price of 20 different listed stocks, between September 2014 and July 2015.
The 41-year-old traded between the accounts he controlled – known as wash trading – using dummy bids to falsely boost the perceived demand, and ultimately the price, for listed stocks.
He used online posts on HotCopper to illegally spread information about his wash trades and dummy bids, seeking to pump up share prices, then sell them at a higher price.
In one post he quipped “dummy bids are all part of the fun and games and cat and mouse of the stockmarket!”
Mr Govinda pleaded guilty on Monday to 23 charges of manipulation of listed stocks on the Australian Securities Exchange and 19 of illegal dissemination of information relating to the manipulation.
He faces up to 10 years’ jail on each charge or a fine of up to $765,000, or both.
He is the first person to be convicted of false trading and market rigging, through creating a false or misleading appearance of active trading, under the Corporations Act.
The corporate regulator noted a “concerning trend” of social media posts being used to co-ordinate “pump and dump” schemes, a practice which famously landed Jordan Belfort, the former stockbroker whose story inspired The Wolf of Wall Street film, in jail.
Typically, the activity occurs when a person buys shares in a company and starts an organised program to try and boost the share price, by using social media and online forums to create a sense of excitement in a stock or spread false news about the company’s prospects. They then sell their shares and take a profit, while other shareholders suffer as the share price drops.
“ASIC has recently observed blatant attempts to pump share prices, using posts on social media to announce a target stock, a designated time to buy and a target price or percentage gain to be reached before dumping the shares,” the regulator said.
“In some cases, posts on social media forums may mislead subscribers by suggesting the activity is legal.”
ASIC said it continued to act against this type of market manipulation, which threatened the integrity of markets.
The regulator warned posting on social media to co-ordinate “pump and dump” activity in listed stocks was an offence under the Corporations Act and it expected participants to report suspicious activity promptly when they came across it.
Mr Govinda is due to appear at the Victorian County Court on July 20 for a mention hearing.