Nov 30, 2020 By: Charlene Osmanski NFA Member firms, are likely aware of the rules and regulations surrounding the supervision of company related online activity. However, firms are likely less familiar with corporate impersonation or identity theft. From social media to cybersecurity considerations, advancing technology breeds new operational concerns and security questions. Even firms who have chosen to avoid internet marketing, being cautious to the intricacy of navigating promotional material rules, have fallen victim to third parties creating fake websites masquerading as real NFA Members. Turnkey has seen this problem a half dozen times within the past year. A third-party imposter creates a real website, using a similar URL, stealing company logos, NFA IDs, and real registration information from the NFA BASIC system. It should go without saying that a fake online presence can potentially lead to deeper inquiries from regulators and customers into firm supervisory and operating procedures. Based on the increasing amount of corporate identity theft, every registered firm, regardless of whether they are actively trading or soliciting, should be conducting regular web searches based on the company’s name. Turnkey has witnessed firms, with and without websites, come under NFA scrutiny over an URL they have no relation to. It is important when conducting these searches to consider variations of potential company URLs. For example, “ABC Advisors LLC” should search “ABC Advisors” and “ABC Advisors LLC” in order to look through, at a minimum, the first page of search results to see if anything looks awry. The first result of “abcadvisors.com” may belong to the firm, but “abcadvisorsllc.com” and/or “theabcadvisors.com” may also show in the search. Perhaps “theabcadvisors.com” is a name coincidence for an unrelated firm in a different state with a different business, however “abcadvisorsllc.com” may not be so obvious. Being able to identify a firm’s risk of mistaken identity must be tailored to your specific operations, though there are certain indicators that may help classify the website as a threat or an unrelated business. When a fake website is identified some indicators will be apparent—spelling mistakes, comingling mentions of NFA with other industries, use of a company logo or other information. On the other hand, certain other imposter tricks will require the use of outside tools and knowledge. Mentions of NFA or futures-related material may necessitate an NFA BASIC search. It’s possible your company may share a name with another registered firm. In more difficult cases, imposter sites can appear so legitimate there is no rhyme or reason for their existence. Unfortunately, if you identify a fake website, there is no direct recourse. Contacting the website host will likely result in no action taken; bluntly, hosting companies are being paid to host a site regardless of content or legitimacy. However, documenting an effort to mitigate your exposure to the palpable regulatory concerns will be beneficial should you face an NFA inquiry or audit. You should also be proactive in protecting your customers and potential customers by making them aware that there is a fake website that needs to be avoided. You can also confirm customers and other industry participants are aware of your correct web address. Just be aware that if your corporate identity is stolen it can be a long, uphill, battle to rectify things. Regardless of whether you have found a fake website of your company, you will need to review any known online presence. NFA is actively searching for member firms and has found not only fake websites, but lapses in member firms’ promotional material responsibilities. If you have not recently had an independent review of your online presence, it is imperative that you ensure your websites, social media accounts, and third-party articles are able to withstand an NFA inquiry. The most common mistakes firms make in creating websites are forgetting risk disclosures, conflating opinions with facts, and improperly displaying performance or program information without proper disclosure. These mistakes are not exhaustive of the issues that may be lurking in a website. No firm is immune from problems; do not let a cursory error compound into a rigorous regulatory review. NFA promotional material opinions as well as rogue corporate websites can create significant headaches. As with all compliance related matters it’s best to get in front of things before it’s too late. For assistance in complying with CFTC, NFA, or CME regulatory policy, please click here. Not a subscriber to our monthly newsletter? You’re missing out! Sign up and request to receive more information. About the Author Charlene joined Turnkey Trading Partners after being accepted to the Illinois Bar. She previously worked at Turnkey as an intern during her law school tenure. Charlene has also interned at law offices focused on Entrepreneurship and Intellectual Property. She has a Juris Doctor from Chicago-Kent College of Law with a Certificate in Intellectual Property and dual Bachelor’s degrees in Business & Management and Psychology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. During law school, Charlene was a member of the Intellectual Property Legal Society and the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund. While at Rensselaer, she was on the varsity softball team and served as secretary for the Business & Management Honor Society.