By Nichola Saminather
TORONTO (Reuters) - Securities misconduct in Canada has risen sharply as perpetrators attempted to capitalize on pandemic-driven uncertainties, while social media frenzy surrounding certain stocks and cryptocurrencies also opened the door to more wrongdoing, regulators said on Tuesday.
Regulators started enforcement action against 13 individuals or companies for insider trading in the fiscal year ended March 31, versus just one in 2020; 49 parties for illegal distribution of securities, compared with 20; and against 27 respondents for misconduct, including violations of securities laws, from four the prior year, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) said in a report.
"The COVID-19 climate created opportunities for wrongdoers, and so there was a lot of work from the CSA in the spring and summer of last year to take action," said CSA Chair Louis Morisset.
The CSA is the umbrella group for the country's provincial and territorial securities regulators.
"You could create your own (cryptocurrency) token right away, and through social media... could advertise your token and maybe easily defraud people," Morisset said.
"We need to remain extremely vigilant about what’s happening; we need to rely on whistleblowers to let us know what's happening."
Whistleblower tips jumped to 461 from 291 a year earlier. CSA members started 52 cases compared with 38.
Of about 150 cases of fraud found in a sweep of COVID-19-related investment scams conducted by the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), which represents state and provincial regulators across the continent, 64 were identified by Canadian regulators, the report said.
Some of the Canadian actions have included public warnings and suspensions of domain names of unregistered firms offering investments and listed companies making exaggerated claims, according to the NASAA's website. Morisset attributed Canada's outsized share to regulators' success in uncovering scams.
(Reporting by Nichola Saminather; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)