From Harshad Mehta to Ketan Parekh and so many more in between, there have been a number of well-documented stock and share market scams over the years. Such frauds could utilize any or a combination of methods from below:
- Shell companies: Such entities use the names of established brands such as Apple or Reliance. They lure investors with the intention of defrauding them.
- Boiler rooms: This is a high-pressure selling technique used to peddle speculative shares. Brokers often use this technique to push penny stocks which results in losses higher than the client can bear.
- Pump and dump: In a world rife with fake news, misleading information helps pump up the price of certain stocks. When the stock hits a target price, they are then dumped for huge profits. Those who are left holding the stock suffer untold losses.
- Insider trading: This is the criminal practice of using secret information to trade on the stock exchange for one’s personal profit. Even though regulations exist to help prevent this, it still exists in the market.
- Churning: Brokerage firms often give wrongful advice to create additional brokerage which boosts their own income.
- Financial statement fraud: A number of publicly traded firms manipulate their financial statements to overstate revenues, understate expenses, overstate corporate assets, understate existing liabilities, and more.
An unidentifiable fraud
A type of financial fraud that often goes unnoticed and unpunished is when unclaimed shares are claimed by persons who are not the rightful claimants for that holding.
Unclaimed shares and unclaimed dividends can be recovered by the rightful claimant. However, the problem stems from the fact that the claimants are often not aware that they can claim such financial instruments.
Fraudsters take out data of folios that have become inactive. In most cases, these folios only have the investor’s name or at the most, their father’s name mentioned, with no unique identity of the investor, whatsoever. This makes it easy for anyone to defraud. A fake ID and in many cases, just running around the system, is enough to get the job done.
The issue remains hidden, since there are no claimants for the stolen shares and dividends in the vast majority of cases. By the time rightful claimants came forward to make their claim, the shares had been sold by the fraudsters in a number of cases.
As a matter of fact, in most of the cases, these shares are in physical form, with the share certificates (typically bonus shares) lying undelivered with the registrar. The reason for this is being the original shareholder would have died, or changed the address, so no one is available to receive the shares at the address mentioned in the Register of Members of the company. The postal department will return the shares/dividend cheques to the registrar.
From 2001-02 to 2015-16, the Investor Education and Protection Fund (IEPF) received Rs 1,274 crore in unclaimed shares and unclaimed dividends, according to government statistics.
Real-world implications of unclaimed shares fraud
Unless someone complains, the corporation may not even be aware that the shares have been unlawfully transferred. Often even the person defrauded does not realize that they have been defrauded.
The most recent such case is that of Britannia Industries where the value of unlawfully transferred shares is believed to be approximately Rs 18-20 crore. Similarly, unlawfully transferred shares worth Rs 2 crore were also identified in Asian Paints.
According to sources, such scams would not be feasible without the cooperation of personnel at the stock transfer agencies. Because the unclaimed shares are in physical form, the fraudsters will require the original holder’s specimen signatures before they can send them for dematerialization. That information is most likely derived from the share registrar’s records.
Let’s understand this more deeply with a real-world example.
A senior citizen (let’s call them CG) learned too late that her father, Nowroji Sorabji Sethna, had stock in a number of publicly traded firms. However, she discovered that the shares had been fraudulently transferred and sold by the time she sought the corporations for more information.
Sethna possessed over 10,000 Balmer Lawrie shares, which, together with a bonus issue, are worth over Rs 80 lakh at today’s market values. He also had stock in Delhi Cloth & General Mills (the parent business from which the DCM group was formed in the 1980s), CESC, and Walchandnagar Industries, among other enterprises. When CG emailed Balmer Lawrie for more information, she was told that Sethna’s name had vanished from the shareholder records.
CG was also made aware of a request for a change of postal address, the issuance of duplicate shares, and the dematerialization of shares. The only problem is that these requests were made in 2011 after Sethna had passed away in 1975. According to the information given by Balmer Lawrie, Sethna’s shares were ‘sold’ between May 2011 and February 2013. The original shareholder’s signature is required on the transfer deed accompanying the share certificate in the event of physical shares.
Balmer Lawrie made a bonus share issuance in the ratio of 3:4 in May 2013. Sethna was the recipient of 5,805 shares. Balmer Lawrie received a ‘request’ for dematerialization of the shares from Sethna in September 2013. Sethna sent the corporation another ‘request’ for duplicate share certificates for 6,340 shares six months later, and another ‘request’ for dematerialization of those shares two months later. And now there is no trace of any of those shares.
Balmer Lawrie argues that in processing the requests, it “relied on statements provided by the RTA and the corresponding depository participant, as well as papers given by the transferor/transferees.” It also wrote to CG, stating that Sethna’s address had changed unexpectedly. “The firm has been requesting the RTA for the aforementioned facts and copies of each of the documents in their possession, including the explanation for the change in the registered address of the shareholders,” Balmer Lawrie wrote to CG.
CG was unable to obtain the CESC shares to which she was entitled since they, too, had been unlawfully sold. Both CG’s brother and mother had stakes in Delhi Cloth and General Mills, and both died in the early 1980s. Since then, the corporation has been divided into three divisions. When CG requested information on the shareholding from one of the three group firms, they were told that the names of the two initial shareholders were no longer on the books. She was able to obtain her shares in Walchandnagar Industries only because a letter she sent to the firm asking for data on her father’s shareholdings arrived only a few days after the fraudsters had written to the company notifying them about the change in address.
STOP SITTING BACK !!
PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE
Such a thing can happen to anyone. Imagine being scammed without even realizing you are being scammed. It is a scary proposition.
With the advent of demat accounts, this process has become even easier for those who intend to defraud. These agents employ illegal tactics to get shares that have not been claimed by the deceased’s legal heirs, convert them to demat form, sell them on the market, transfer the funds to bank accounts set up for the purpose, and withdraw cash. Typically, they take help of a series of transactions, and since the asset is fungible, no track record can be found.
Market regulator SEBI has launched a probe into the agents and companies who are involved in such nefarious activities.
However, as an investor, it is best to stay vigilant. Trustworthy professionals such as those at Infiny Solutions ensure that you always have all the correct information about your shareholdings and any holdings that may be due to you. Our team has access to a vast database and is thus able to identify the rightful claimants of unclaimed shares and unclaimed dividends. We help ensure that you get the money that belongs to you without any risk of being defrauded by unscrupulous agents.