It is not often that penny stocks—and the pump-and-dump fraud schemes to which they are vulnerable—receive much attention beyond the blogs and chat rooms that cover the Wild West of over-the-counter micro-caps. And then along comes CYNK Technology.
It remains undetermined if fraudulent activity allowed CYNK's shares to peak over 36,000 percent before Friday's trading halt from the Securities and Exchange Commission. If the stock were manipulated, however, it would represent the latest in a constantly evolving scam: the "pump and dump," which was made famous in part by Jordan Belfort, the so-called "Wolf of Wall Street."
But former federal prosecutor Joel Cohen, who led the criminal investigation against Belfort as an assistant U.S. attorney, said the days of boiler rooms and high-pressured stock telemarketing are gone, and that we are seeing the Gen Y of pump and dump.
"The Internet has changed much about how pump and dump works," Cohen told CNBC. "Boiler rooms don't exist to the same degree. Legions of young brokers aren't necessary. Nor are large offices," he said.
Cohen, a partner with New York-based law firm Gibson Dunn, said that the personalities involved in today's pump and dumps have also evolved.
"Enigmatic figures like Jordan Belfort don't surface—anonymity is the key to success on modern penny stock fraud," Cohen said. "The pumps often have shorter runs. The promoters don't as typically appear in connection with multiple transactions: It's more akin to terrorist tactics rather than frontal warfare."
If CYNK's massive runup were influenced by these manipulative tactics, then the scam was not particularly well executed, penny stock trader Tim Sykes told CNBC.
"No promoter ever wants their stock to go from 2 cents to $12 because that opens the door to investigations," he said.
"Then the stock takes on a life of its own," Sykes said. "If you look at the early promoters who were tweeting [about CYNK] in June, they've been completely silent. They're like 'oh ----.'"
But while the tactics of today's stock pumpers may have evolved, Cohen said they are not necessarily more difficult to detect. The problem becomes that technology allows for increased mobility.
"The greater challenge is that the scheme can be run offshore, and thus outside easy reach of U.S. regulators," he said.
Read More Trading in CYNK Technology halted by SEC
Still, Cohen said Belize-based CYNK, which records show has only one employee, will come under close federal scrutiny after its trading halt on Friday.
"The SEC does have a task force on this," Cohen said, adding that the SEC will look for any indication that the behavior of promoters or nominees holding CYNK Technology's stock caused the precipitous rise in price.
CYNK stock was halted at $13.90 on Friday—it had crossed $21 at one point on Thursday, and began June at less than a dime.