RICHMOND -- The Virginia State Corporation Commission has fielded hundreds of telephone calls in the wake of the Oct. 19 stock market collapse, but only 10 people have filed written grievances.
The agency asked consumers to inform officials how their accounts were handled in the recent stock market debacle.
Armed with a toll-free telephone number, unhappy investors jammed the telephones to the point where the SCC's Division of Securities and Retail Franchising was taking calls from outside Virginia.
"For the first couple of days, I never got off the phone," said Ronald Thomas, the division's chief broker-dealer and investment adviser-examiner. "I couldn't get anything done, and I can only assume that my staff must have been handling a like number of complaints, judging by the lack of production."
Thomas, who estimated that in the beginning he was taking 40 to 50 calls a day, said the volume tapered off in the last half of November. He said last week's average was about 18 calls a day.
Though callers were given a sympathetic ear and perhaps some free advice, disgruntled investors were told the SCC could only follow up on complaints submitted in writing.
Only 10 written complaints have been filed, said Thomas, who added that he was mystified over why such a small fraction of the callers have decided to pursue their grievances.
"Some people seem to be very reluctant to put in writing what they're telling me over the telephone," he reported. "I'm at a loss to explain why people aren't filing written complaints. To me, it only takes time and a 22-cent stamp."
Thomas explained why the complaints must be submitted in writing. First, he said basic fairness dictates that a brokerage firm being investigated must have a written copy of the complaint and not be left with the impression that an expensive probe of its books and records was initiated solely because of a telephone call.
Also, he said, the SCC has seen that if someone is lying about the complaint, forcing them to describe the situation in writing is one way to get at the truth.
"There are two sides to every story, and we work on a lot of complaints here where there is nothing to them," he said.
Finally, Thomas said the written copy of the complaint and supporting documents help the SCC develop a better case.
Calls came from all over the state and were directed against all sorts of brokerage houses, he said.
Thomas said the people he talked to on the phone were overwhelmed with the amount of money they lost in the plunge because they were trading on margin.