stock:
a share of a publicly owned company

share:
part of a publicly owned company. (Generally, part of something that belongs to a particular person.)

value:
amount of money something is worth

realize:
you realize something (a fact) at the moment you come to know it

site:
abbreviation of ‘website‘; (‘site’ means ‘place.’

message:
information that goes indirectly from one person to another (by letter, e-mail, telephone answering machine etc.)

breaking the law:
doing something ‘against’ the law (i.e. criminal (a crime))

Jonathan Lebed (easy version)

Jonathan Lebed grew up in Cedar Grove, a town in the eastern United States.

When he was eleven he was spending a lot of time watching sports on television. He was also spending a lot of time on the family computer and had even built his own website. Besides all that, Jonathan was starting to get interested in “stocks” — shares of companies that can be bought and sold in the “stock market.”

Jonathan’s father had some stocks and Jonathan knew their names. When he got home from school, he watched the stock market news on television. When he saw the name of one of his father’s stocks, he phoned him at work to tell him the latest price.

Before long, Jonathan wanted to own stocks himself. On his twelfth birthday, his parents gave him $US 8000. They had put this money away for him when he was born. Jonathan used the money to buy stocks. He chose a company he liked and he asked his father to buy some of that company’s stock for him. His father told him he was making a mistake, but he did what Jonathan asked him to do.

In the next two weeks, the value of Jonathan’s stocks rose quickly. Jonathan sold them and made a lot of money. He continued buying and selling and in eighteen months, his $8000 had turned into $28,000.

Jonathan soon got very good at making money in the stock market. He learned a lot from television and the internet. He decided which companies to put his money into by looking for stock that he thought was being sold for less than it was worth.

After a while Jonathan realized that one reason the value of some stocks rose very quickly was that people were saying online that the stocks were going to become much more valuable. He also realized that by saying this sort of thing, even if you didn’t believe it, you could make its value rise. And he realized that if you pushed up the value of a stock that you owned yourself, you could sell it and make a lot of money.

Since he had bought his first stocks, Jonathan had been spending time on websites where people talked about stocks. He found that if he got up at 5:30 in the morning and worked hard, he could put two hundred messages on these sites. In these messages he said wonderful things about the companies whose stocks he owned. He didn’t really lie, but he did say things about how the value of these stocks was going to rise quickly in the future. And he said these things even though he didn’t believe that this was really going to happen.

When people saw these messages they bought the stock Jonathan owned and that pushed the price up. Once he made $74,000 in just one day. In six months, he made almost $800,000.

On one of the websites, Jonathan met a man called Ira Monas. Ira worked for two of the companies whose stock Jonathan owned. Ira’s job for these companies was to tell people on the internet that they should buy these companies’ stock because the companies were making a lot of money and the stocks’ value was going to rise quickly. Ira did this even though he knew that, in fact, the companies were losing money. Because Ira was being paid by the companies, he was breaking the law by being dishonest in this way.

Some other people realized what Ira was doing and they told the “SEC” about it. (The SEC controls the stock markets in the United States.) Then the SEC found out that Jonathan had been repeating, on the websites, some of the things that Ira had said. They called Jonathan to their office and told him that what he had been doing was against the law and that he was in serious trouble.

They couldn’t prove, though, that when Jonathan had repeated what Ira said, he knew that these things were false. They made him give them $280,000 of the money he had made, but he was allowed to keep the rest, about half a million dollars.

Jonathan gave them the money, but he still said he had done nothing wrong and he continued buying and selling stocks and talking about them on the websites.

- information from: New York Times, 00.09.21 (Gretchen Morgenson); The New York Times,  01.02.25 (Michael Lewis); The Independent (UK), 01.07.21 (Terry Bond); Money, 01.03.01 (Peter Carbonara)