Investors warned about phony regulator sites

Internet scamsters are nothing if not creative. In one of the latest schemes aimed at investors, they've set up fake sites targeting those who were customers of brokerage firms that were later liquidated. They pretend to be organizations that help people in such situations, according to a warning issued on Wednesday by the Securities Investor Protection Corp. (SIPC).

The SIPC has a fund, set up under congressional mandate, to help customers of brokerage firms that are liquidating. That has spawned sites pretending to be organizations that play the same role, the SIPC said, in an attempt to con investors.

What the fake sites are looking for is access to brokerage accounts as well as other personal financial information. Some want payment in advance for their services.

"Any investor whose brokerage firm is being liquidated through SIPC who believes they are missing stocks or cash can find information about the proceeding on our website -- www.sipc.org," SIPC President Stephen Harbeck said in a statement. "Brokerage firm liquidations handled through SIPC do not require investors to pay a fee to recover assets."

The SIPC called out Alliant Trust Systems and IAC International as examples of sites that claim the SIPC's mandate as their own.

"These ongoing financial scams involve con artists falsely claiming to be a SIPC-like customer protection entity to trick victims, including non-U.S. investors, into giving the fraudsters access to brokerage accounts and sharing personally identifiable information," the SIPC said in its warning.

Many of the phony sites are based overseas and out of reach of U.S. authorities.

The SIPC recommends that victims of such sites file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.