A pair of British brothers are facing charges in the United States for allegedly defrauding investors out of more than 1.2 m US dollars (£745,000) through a bogus stock scheme.
Twins Alexander and Thomas Hunter were just 16 years old when they devised the "elaborate" online scam which fooled around 75,000 people, according to US officials.
In 2007 the brothers, reportedly from Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, are alleged to have invented a fictitious "stock picking robot" and claimed on a series of websites that the highly sophisticated computer trading programme could identify stocks that were poised to rocket in value.
They then targeted thousands of unsuspecting investors, mainly in the US, selling them "home versions" of the bogus software - named Marl - and annual subscription to a newsletter that listed the programme's stock recommendations, it is said.
However, the stocks were not generated by any technical analysis and were in fact those companies who were paying the brothers to promote, according to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), who has brought the civil action.
Legal papers filed in a New York federal court claimed investors paid 47 US dollars for newsletters listing Marl's stock picks and 97 US dollars for the home software. The twins promoted the scam on websites doublingstocks.com, which claimed the robot's stock analysis earned returns of 34% per week, and daytradingrobot.com, it is said.
Meanwhile, the Hunters, now 20, received at least an additional 1.86 million US dollars (£1.15 million) in fees from stock promoters for their stock touting services, which was advertised on website equitypromoter.com. The site boasted of the brother's ability to "rocket" the price and volume of thinly traded penny stock issuers.
Once a stock promoter was reeled in by the scam, it is alleged the twins would send an email to the thousands of investors subscribed to their newsletter, recommending they buy the touted asset. And once investors followed the bogus advise the shares value and volume would instantly increase.
US officials claim the brothers breached both the Securities Act and Securities Exchange Act. The SEC is seeking permanent injunctions against the pair to prevent them from continuing to engage in securities fraud and an order requiring them to hand over their ill-gotten gains, which were allegedly collected in UK and offshore bank accounts.
In November, Newcastle Crown Court ordered Alexander Hunter to pay back nearly one million US dollars after he admitted providing unregulated financial advice, according to the BBC. He was given a suspended 12-month prison sentence.