A Bank of America sign is displayed outside a branch in Tucson, Arizona January 21, 2011. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
By Dan Freed
(Reuters) - In the latest apparent spoof on a U.S. securities regulator's online filing system, a Chicago-area artist with a fondness for inspirational quotes claimed to have acquired about $88 billion worth of Bank of America Corp shares on Wednesday.
The filing did not appear to influence the stock price of the second-largest U.S. bank, which joins companies including Avon Products Inc, Integrated Device Technology Inc and Berkshire Hathaway Inc to have had fake filings attached to their ticker symbols on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's Edgar system.
While the SEC did not respond to a request for comment and Bank of America declined to comment, securities experts said there was no doubt the filing was a hoax.
In it, a company called YNOFACE Holdings Inc purportedly run by Antonio Lee said it had acquired 798.4 million Bank of America shares in an exchange on Aug. 15, and purchased another 4.2 billion common shares and 100 million preferred shares on Sept. 22.
The common shares alone would represent nearly half the bank's total market cap. Bank of America's largest shareholder, The Vanguard Group, has roughly 610 million shares, a stake of less than 6 percent.
In an earlier filing, YNOFACE said it had implausibly raised over $1 trillion for an art fund.
A quick Google search for Lee found several promotional sites describing him as a "world renowned artist, and YouTube celebrity specializing in acrylic painting."
A YouTube account characterizes YNOFACE as a company that "acquires, markets, and holds original art as a capital appreciation investment based off the fundamental metrics."
Lee's Twitter posts showcase colourful paintings of a beach, elephants in love and a naked person with a bird's head, along with quotes like, "When an artist follows their intuition & dreams, society can only benefit." Its avatar is a painting of a man with a big red question mark over his face.
Reuters' attempts to reach Lee were unsuccessful.
While Bank of America appeared unscathed by the apparent scam, past phony filings have had real world consequences. Last year, Avon shares soared 20 percent on a filing about a fake takeover bid. The alleged fraudster was arrested earlier this year.
The SEC's vulnerability to phony filings has attracted the attention of Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who wrote to the regulator last year to express his concern.
The YNOFACE filing is so bizarre it is more likely a prank than a scam intended to generate profits, according to Jay Ritter, a finance professor at the University of Florida.
"Serious scamsters aren't so amateurish," he said.