February 24, 2011
Pssst! Wanna Buy Some Facebook Shares?
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

Don't get too excited.  If you don't have $1 million, you're out of luck.

It was during the Facebook/Goldman brouhaha that I first became aware of sites like SharesPost and SecondMarket.  Places where you could buy shares of private companies, including buzzy IPO candidates like Twitter and Facebook.  I was a bit confused as to how they were able to avoid the reach of the securities laws, but I didn't summon the energy to investigate further.  Apparently the SEC did

SharesPost explains that the sales fit into the Section 4(1) exemption and sometimes Rule 144.  They lean on the fact that 1) only SharesPost members with a password protected account can participate, 2) only accredited investors can be SharesPost Buyers, and 3) only sellers holding their shares for at least a year can be SharesPost Sellers."  (Accredited investors, for those needing a reminder, have a net worth of $1 million or individual income of over $200,000 in the past 2 years.)   So in answer to my titular question, if you're rich, you may be able to buy Facebook shares on SharesPost.  I tried to sign up as a buyer using SecondMarket's "60-second signup", and didn't see any questions about asset or income, but I chickened out when they asked for personal information. 

SharesPost maintains it doesn't need to be licensed as a broker-dealer because it's an "information portal."  This sounds like a Napster-type argument to me, and kind of shaky.  The SEC is investigating conflicts of interest in pricing, among other issues.  A crackdown seems likely, at least to me.




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