(Updated Sept. 17, 2009) Zecco recently updated their free trades program to have a requirement of a $25,000 balance !
Anytime I hear free I immediately think “scam.” Let’s be honest, the person offering up something for free is looking for some sort of benefit and unless I can find out what the benefit is (especially if I’m giving them all the information they need to steal my identity), I’m going to assume the benefit for them is to steal my identity.
So, is Zecco  legitimate or a scam? I let time do the testing because most people are savvy enough to sniff out a scam relatively soon, especially if you let mainstream media do the vetting. Right now, they appear legitimate and that’s because they’re actually a division of Equinox Securities, Inc. According to the NASD Broker Check , Equinox Securities (CRD# 135398, SEC# 8-66916) registered as a corporation in California on 01/21/2005 and is located in Ontario, CA. It’s currently not suspended by any regulator and has not yet had any Arbitration Awards, Disciplinary and/or Regulatory Events. I downloaded the full Equinox Securities report  and you can see Zecco Trading listed on page 4.
So, the NASD knows about them but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re 100% legit, brokers with fraudulent intentions can register – they just can’t have committed fraud yet. That’s where the second line in their little fine print comes into play, they are a member of SIPC  (Securities Investor Protection Corporation), an organization created by Congress in 1970. What do they do?
When a brokerage firm is closed due to bankruptcy or other financial difficulties and customer assets are missing, SIPC steps in as quickly as possible and, within certain limits, works to return customers’ cash, stock and other securities. Without SIPC, investors at financially troubled brokerage firms might lose their securities or money forever or wait for years while their assets are tied up in court.
Now, just because they say they’re in the SIPC doesn’t make it so, but I was able to confirm it through SIPC’s member check . Equinox Securities Inc. located at 2084 E Francis Street, Ontario CA 91761, an address that matches the NASD information. It’s a Cold Fusion script so I couldn’t link directly to the results but they’re in there.
Again, is participation in this program a guarantee it’s not fraudulent? Of course not, but that’s a lot of hoops to jump through if you’re a scam. So, after a brief bit of research, Zecco passed the extensive sniff test for me but to be honest, all the talk of their abysmal customer service makes me think you get what you paid for. Trades are cheap, why not go with a firm that has some credibility in the marketplace? I, for one, am going with TradeKing , twice named Smart Money’s #1 Discount Brokerage of the Year 2006 & 2007 (they removed the discount category after 2007), where trades are only $4.95. Smart Money  put Zecco dead last in customer service.
I think customer service in a brokerage is crucial. If I have a problem, I don’t want to wait on hold.