BEEF WITH A BROKER? CLICK HERE WEB SITES OFFER LINK TO
REGULATORS, HELP FOR INVESTORS
By Dolores Kong
The Boston Globe
In this day and age, when investors can make trades
and get stock tips online, it seems only appropriate
that they should be able to use the same technology to
complain about a broker. Government regulators and
industry watchdogs are now letting investors do just
that, by putting complaint forms and a wide array of
consumer- protection material on the Internet.
Three weeks ago, the Securities and Exchange
Commission unveiled its online complaint form, adding
to an ever-expanding list of investor resources at its
Web site, www.sec.gov.
Investors are already using the online forms to
streamline the complaint process, said John Gannon,
acting director of the SEC's Office of Investor
Education and Assistance.
"The minute you click `Submit' on the form, it's here
within a matter of seconds," he said.
Two weeks ago, for example, an investor complained
online to the SEC that a brokerage had abruptly closed
the multiple accounts he had opened to increase his
chances of getting into initial public offerings.
The same day, the complaint was forwarded to the
brokerage, and a response was received, Gannon said.
Complaints filed by mail can take weeks.
The SEC worked with the brokerage and the investor,
Gannon said, getting the investor more time before
accounts were closed but explaining that a brokerage
has the right to close multiple accounts.
Other regulatory bodies have online complaint forms:
- The Massachusetts Securities Division is at
- NASD Regulation Inc. can be found at www.nasdr.com
Gannon cautions against putting account numbers on
online complaint forms, however, since they may not be
secure. Name and and address are usually enough.
But protecting investors goes beyond just providing
online complaint forms, regulators say.
"I think the most important value that the SEC
provides you with," Gannon said, "is an unbiased view
on investing, and information on how to get assistance
if you do run into problems.
"There's a lot of good information on the Internet,
but there's also some very bad information on the
Internet. Having a government site . . . gives people
an opportunity to check other information they find on
The SEC's investor education office has had more than
363,000 "hits" since it was redesigned in May to make
it more consumer- friendly, Gannon said. (Click on
"Investor Assistance and Complaints" on the SEC's main
Investors can start with the basics, using an SEC
"road map" to figure out financial goals, determine
risk tolerance, and pick a financial professional.
They can also tap into a mutual fund calculator, learn
how to avoid Internet fraud, get the lowdown on
initial public offerings, or IPOs, and find out about
EDGAR, the SEC's electronic database of documents that
companies are required to file. EDGAR stands for the
electronic data gathering, analysis, and retrieval
There is also information about the dangers of day
One of the site's most popular features is the search
function, Gannon said. It lets you use keywords to
find a topic.
The main SEC site also has information about the
latest enforcement actions, including the agency's
1999 case against three people who illegally offered
stock on e-Bay, an Internet auction site.
"It's a place that investors can go to 24 hours a day
to get information from the SEC," Gannon said.
The state Securities Division's site offers similar
For example, visitors can print out a form that helps
them keep notes when they speak with a broker. They
can also get a list of 10 investing do's and don'ts.
And the site for NASD Regulation, an independent
subsidiary of the National Association of Securities
Dealers Inc., allows consumers to check for complaints
or disciplinary actions against brokers and brokerage
firms. An investor can then make an online request for
copies of public records about the cases.
Other Internet sites for investors include:
- The Federal Trade Commission, at www.ftc.gov