New Hollywood biopic dramatizes real-life security fraud

When it comes to subjects appropriate for Hollywood movies, the topic of securities fraud may not top the list. But a new film by famous director Martin Scorsese starring Leonardo DiCaprio tackles that very subject, and is based on a true story.

To be clear, the movie is really about one particular player in the financial industry, Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker whose alleged behavior with customers earned him the nickname "The Wolf of Wall Street." That's also the name of the movie, as well as an autobiographic memoir published by the former stockbroker.

Belfort was convicted of a pump-and-dump scheme, a type of securities fraud where stockbrokers own shares of a stock that they are also aggressively promoting to potential investors. Part of that salesmanship might include a deliberate misrepresentation or omission of one or more material characteristics about the risky stock. When enough investors have purchased the stock to inflate its price, the stockbrokers running the scheme can sell their own shares of the stock at a profit.

In this case, Belfort and his partner were accused of targeting investors with misrepresentations about worthless penny stocks. However, the former stockbroker's unlawful dealings didn't stop there. After cashing in on his profit, Belfort enlisted his wife's mother and aunt to help him smuggle his ill-gotten profits into Swiss banks. Belfort ultimately left thousands of defrauded investors in his wake.

Although a defrauded investor might be best served by consulting with a securities fraud attorney, other investors who have not yet been cheated might benefit from seeing this movie. Regardless of its entertainment value, the true-life saga of a fraudulent securities scheme could prove to be an educational experience. If the movie raises questions, an investor might also consult with an attorney to get some clear answers.

Source: Time, "The Wolf of Wall Street: The True Story of Jordan Belfort," Eliana Dockterman, Dec. 26, 2013

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