How do I Choose the Best Forex Broker

Theres no question about it penny stocks can bring home some of the biggest gains despite being in the gutter of Wall Street. But those tiny companies can also bring along quite a bit of risk. youre investing in a business with serious profit potential or a scamsters shell game.

One of the biggest questions asked at on stock forums is: "Can you tell me if XYZ Corp. is legit?" And while we cant give out personalized investment advice, we can give you the tools to determine whether youre investing in a business with serious profit potential or a scamsters shell game.

For many investors, the idea that a stock could be representing itself incorrectly is unthinkable. After all, weve got the SEC, the exchanges  like NYSE and NASDAQ  and independent auditors taking a look at every filing that a company puts out to shareholders. But in the world of micro-cap stocks, many of those same protections just arent there.

Since the Securities and Exchange Commission was created there have been countless scandals over the last couple of years have shown us that they simply doesnt have the resources to make sure that the smallest companies are reporting accurately.

Serious listing requirements for penny stocks ensure that shares trading on major exchanges are legitimate businesses, but for stocks that trade OTC or on the Pink Sheets, the requirements to get shares trading are slim to none.

And while most investors think of audited financials as a safeguard that keeps a companys financials accurate, many companies also arent required to get their books audited because of their size.

If youre thinking about investing in a penny stock thats exempt from registering with the SEC might still be looking at a perfectly good investment but you have to do your homework.

Verify the Business
The first step to determining whether a penny share is legitimate is to verify that the business exists and does what you think it does.

You can start off by entering the stocks ticker on a major financial site  like Google Finance  and checking out the description of the company. Those descriptions come from filings, so you can generally trust what they say since thanks to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, its a felony for management to lie on company filings.

Also, log onto the SECs website and look for company filings to get the full look at a companys operations. And dont forget to look at its ticker an "E" at the end means that the company is delinquent in providing its regulatory filings  a very big red flag.
For companies small enough to not report their financials, ask your broker for a copy of the companys "Rule 15c2-11 file". In it, youll find a slew of information that the company was required to provide to prove their exempt status.

Check the Auditor
When youre reading a companys financials, look for the audit opinion (generally near the end of a 10-K annual report filing). Its a statement from the independent auditors that explains the steps an auditor took to verify a companys financials as well as whether the financials are accurate in their opinion.

Checking who the auditor is makes a big difference too. Bernie Madoffs "independent" auditor was neither  he trusted Madoff too, blindly signing off on the scamsters financials and losing millions of his own in the process. Checking into the accountants CPA firm would have showed that it was a tiny storefront with only one CPA and without the manpower to audit a multi-billion dollar financial firm.

Getting audited by one of the "big four" accounting firms  PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, KPMG, and Ernst & Young  is generally the domain of big blue chips that can afford to have prestigious accounting firms handle the audit, so dont stress if the auditors name doesnt look familiar. Take the time to research who the auditor is, though, and whether theyre qualified to handle a company audit. A quick Google search should solve that.

Give Them a Call
Hard-to-find contact information is another red flag that should be watched out for. Since most companies are constantly on the lookout for new business, their sales team should at least be easily accessible. If you have concerns about whether or not the company is legit, go ahead and call the phone number on their website. If you cant find a number or address, check back on the SEC website  companies have to include their corporate contact information on the cover of all 10-K and 10-Q filings.

New technology has also made it much easier to verify a businesss contact information. Just type in a companys address into Google Maps, and select "Street View", and you can actually see the building where its offices are located. If the offices for a publicly traded stock are showing up as someones home or a mailbox rental store, be very wary of going forward.

Follow the Money
If you really want to know about a company, you have to follow the money  its customers
For any company that markets its products to consumers, a quick web search should give you an idea of how well  or poorly  the company is treating the people who use its services. Reading customer experiences will also give you an idea of whether or not people are jibing with the companys offerings.

Googling your way to customer experiences isnt always an option, especially when a company caters to enterprise or government clients. In these cases, where more money is generally involved, lawsuits are more likely as a result of business disputes. Check an online legal database  like the U.S. PACER System  to see whether your potential microcap investment is being sued by customers.

Check for Promotions
Its possible for a company to be legitimate while the news that "independent parties" are touting isnt. These so called "stock promoters" are publishing faux research reports and stock recommendations in hopes that investors will catch on to the penny stocks theyre selling. They do this through websites and newsletters that seem legitimate on the surface, but are essentially nothing more than schemes to get people to buy these stocks.

While weve never accepted money to write about any stock here at the Sleuth, some in the industry do And believe it or not, its completely legal as far as the SEC is concerned.

There are a few ways that you can tell whether a stocks being pumped by a promoter. For starters, go to the horses mouth  check out  the site features a listing of which stocks are paying for which promoters, as well as what the promoters are getting in return.

Promoters arent ashamed about what they do  they want companies to know how good they are at their jobsthats why theyre so easy to spot.

More Homework, More Profits
To be sure, doing the research is tough and time consuming. But its also the only way to be completely sure that the next penny stock play youre putting your hard earned money on the line for is legit. Small stocks have some of the greatest gain potential out there  and if you know what to look for, you can make sure that you dont get burned in the process of pursuing profits.

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