Would-be worm farmers got a warning yesterday that there are some slippery characters in the business who may try to wiggle out of promises they make.

The worm warning came from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which said there is not much security in worm breeding, but there are securities law violations.

Worm-flam men, the SEC said, are charging from $375 to $800 for a bin of worms that could be bought wholesale for $25 to $50.

They're also touting a bull market in worms, when in fact the night crawler business is barely inching ahead.

Customers are being hooked by worm franchisers who promise to buy as many head as a worm wrancher can raise. When the customer takes the bait, the worm hucksters wiggle out of the deal, claiming there is a temporary oversupply.

"In many instances, these worm promotions can only survive if additional public investors continue to purchase worms at inflated prices," in a worm pyramid scheme, the SEC warned.

Hilton Foster, the SEC enforcement division lawyer in charge of worms, said some investors find themselves with more worms than they know what to do with.

"If you go out and buy yourself a bin of worms and take them home and cultivate them, you're going to get yourself a whole lot of worms," he warned.

Despite claims to the contrary, there is little market for worms at zoos, for sewage treatment or in foods for human consumption.

The SEC decided to open the can of worms after receiving complaints from state officials that the worm dealers were selling an investment contract, which amounts to a security.

No promoters of worms have turned up in court, but the SEC and the Midwest Securities Commissioners Association said they are keeping an ear to the ground.