In the past few months, Jim Kraber became more than a little obsessed with CNBC's "Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge." At the peak, the 42-year-old was spending 12 hours a day on the contest, using three computers in his Greenwich Village apartment to trade 1,600 different portfolios, all in an effort to win the $1 million grand prize. He even dropped his studies for the chartered financial analyst (CFA) exam, given once a year, so he could have more time for the financial news channel's game.
He made it into the group of 20 finalists, but in mid-May, as the last round of trading opened, he noticed an unusual pattern in the picks of other contestants. One trader had a stream of near-perfect picks, consistently placing huge bets on shares that soared in after-hours trading. Kraber suspected the trader and perhaps others were getting help from someone who was changing their picks after the stocks' increases—and he quickly notified CNBC. "I went back and looked at his trades and thought, 'This is pretty much statistically impossible,'" says Kraber, who holds master's degrees in business and statistics from New York University.
Kraber says CNBC rebuffed him at the time, but now it looks like he may have been right. Several contest participants have told BusinessWeek that there was a flaw in the design of the CNBC game that allowed certain players an unfair advantage. As many as four of the top contestants in the million-dollar contest may have exploited the flaw, according to the participants interviewed by BusinessWeek. On May 30, two weeks after Kraber says he notified the cable channel, CNBC posted a notice on its Web site that there have been allegations of trading strategies "in violation of the contest rules" and that it is investigating the issue. It has not disclosed the nature of the alleged problems.
Business Week has interesting details about how the contest was manipulated by some participants.