The hot new scam on Wall Street

The hot new scam on Wall Street

Mar 21,2024

A version of this story first appeared in CNN Business’ Before the Bell newsletter. Not a subscriber? You can sign up right here. You can listen to an audio version of the newsletter by clicking the same link.

New York CNN  — 

There’s a hot new scam on Wall Street, and, of course, it involves the world’s buzziest technology: artificial intelligence.

The Securities and Exchange Commission said Monday that it had charged Investment advisers Delphia and Global Predictions for making deceptive claims about their use of AI, a practice known as AI washing. Both firms agreed to settle the charges, according to the SEC.

“Global Predictions cooperated fully with the inquiry and is pleased to put this behind us. Additionally, we have clarified across our marketing how exactly we use AI,” the company said in a statement to CNN on Monday. Delphia did not respond to requests for comment.

The firms paid a combined $400,000 in civil penalties, according to the SEC.

“We’ve seen time and again that when new technologies come along, they can create buzz from investors as well as false claims by those purporting to use those new technologies,” SEC Chair Gary Gensler said in a statement on Monday. “Such AI washing hurts investors.”

What is “AI washing?” The practice is comparable to greenwashing. But rather than trumpeting phony sustainable practices or a product that is supposedly zero-waste, companies engaging in AI washing falsely state that they use artificial intelligence or misportray their use of the technology.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has also said that a failure to disclose potential risks surrounding AI is a form of deception. Public trading companies who participate in AI washing risk violating US securities law, Gensler warned in a speech last month.

Artificial intelligence buzz helped push stocks into a fresh bull market last year after the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022, despite a backdrop of sky-high interest rates, recession fears and geopolitical turmoil. Although experts have touted positive uses for AI, many worry about potentially disastrous consequences including security risks, unmitigated spread of disinformation and even human extinction.

The Federal Trade Commission has warned that AI could spur a “turbocharging” of scams and fraud, and that existing laws give the US government the ability to crack down on AI-borne consumer harm.

How can investors protect themselves against AI washing and other AI scams? The SEC Office of Investor Education and Advocacy has best practices for investors to avoid such schemes. Here are some of them:

Make sure that any Investment adviser, exchange or platform that you engage with is registered. You can do that for free through the SEC here.
Use information from several, verified sources before deciding where to put your dollars. Fraudsters can use AI to clone voices or generate fake video impersonating legitimate sources like government agencies or even your friends and family.
Be skeptical of endorsements from celebrities or influencers. The product or service they’re promoting could be a scam or just not right for your Investment goals.
Review company disclosures and marketing tactics. Look for warning signs, such as a focus on promotions to attract investors rather than growing its business. You can find public companies’ disclosures in the SEC’s EDGAR database.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Promises of a guaranteed, turbocharged return with little to no risk are immediate red flags.

The Fed keeps interest rates at 23-year high for the fifth time

The Federal Reserve held its key interest rate steady Wednesday for the fifth consecutive meeting, as the central bank awaits more data to determine when to cut rates, reports my colleague Bryan Mena.

The Fed has raised rates aggressively over the past two years in a bid to fight the highest inflation in decades. But while Americans continue to deal with high interest rates and inflation, Fed officials are still not ready to bring down borrowing costs.

Wall Street is betting that the first rate cut will come in the summer.

Fed officials are facing the difficult task of balancing the risk of cutting too soon with the risk of cutting too late — both of which come with consequences. That’s why the timing of that first rate cut is so critical, because it could either undo the progress the Fed has seen, if officials cut too soon, or it could fail to prevent the economy from sharply deteriorating, if officials cut too late.

Fed officials also released a fresh set of economic projections, which show they now expect fewer rate cuts in the coming years than they estimated in December. A majority of Fed policymakers continue to expect three rate cuts this year, but they now see fewer in 2025 and 2026. They expect interest rates in the longer run to be slightly higher than they projected in December.

Economic growth is also expected to be much higher this year than officials estimated.

Officials also reflected in their latest estimates that they expect “core” inflation, a measure that strips out volatile food and energy prices, to be higher this year than previously thought.

Read more here.

How low could your commission go? Take a look at how the UK sells homes

A multibillion-dollar settlement in the United States agreed last Friday has opened the door for alternative models of selling real estate, and likely spells the end to 6% commissions on home sales.

American homesellers excited by the prospect of paying substantially lower fees — and realtors equally fearful of a huge cut to their income — need only look across the pond for an example of what might happen next, reports my colleague Anna Cooban.

An influx of low-cost, online-only real estate agencies in Britain has shaken up its housing market in recent years, offering sellers highly competitive upfront fixed fees for a basic package of services.

“Sell your home for free. No bull,” promises one such agency, Purplebricks, on its website. The company, founded a decade ago, offers sellers a valuation and a listing — “everything you need to sell your home” — for free.

Sellers can choose, however, to pay for a range of services considered standard among traditional real estate agencies, and many of them do. Purplebricks charges £899 ($1,142) to have one of its agents conduct property viewings, for example, and £699 ($888) for a package that includes professional photos.

But that’s still a much sweeter deal than the typical £2,850 ($3,616) a UK homeowner can expect to pay a traditional brick-and-mortar agent for a property priced at the national average of £285,000 ($362,022).

Read more here.

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