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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s National Fraud and Financial Crimes Detection Programs, part of the broker-dealer regulator’s newly established COVID-19 Fraud Task Force, has referred more than 50 potentially fraudulent COVID-19 scams by public companies to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The referrals have provided direct assistance to the SEC in suspending trading in the shares of more than 20 public companies, FINRA said Friday.

On March 23, FINRA hired Greg Ruppert, the former head of Charles Schwab’s Financial Crimes Risk Management group, to head the NCFC, which provides surveillance, investigations and examinations of potential fraud associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

Ruppert — who also was a special agent with the FBI for 17 years, investigating complex financial schemes, terrorist financing and cyber threats — has assembled a task force of 15 FINRA groups to monitor COVID-19 related frauds. Those groups include Fraud Surveillance; Insider Trading and Private Investment in Public Equities Surveillance; Office of the Whistleblower; National Cause, Options Regulatory Services; Anti-Money Laundering (AML); Cybersecurity; Vulnerable Adults and Seniors; Corporate Financing; Member Supervision; Enforcement; and Market Regulation.

“Fraudsters are using the pandemic as an opportunity, so FINRA’s role in identifying fraud, acting quickly to protect investors, ensuring fair markets and providing timely information to investors, member firms, other regulators and law enforcement is essential,” Ruppert stated in a blog post on Friday.

Members of the task force collaborate daily and share regulatory intelligence with the SEC’s COVID-19 Fraud and Insider Trading task forces as well as with the FBI and the North American Securities Administrators Association.

The NCFC’s Insider Trading and Fraud Surveillance teams recently identified suspected COVID-19 fraud activity at select firms. “This regulatory intelligence was shared with NCFC’s AML and Cause Exam teams as well as with FINRA’s Enforcement Department which, collectively, reviewed the information and opened exams and investigations,” FINRA said in the blog.

The investigations are active and ongoing.

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