Potential Scams Using Virtual Currency
There are increasing reports about fraudulent investment schemes that may involve Bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, have recently become popular and are intended to serve as a type of money. They may be traded on online exchanges for conventional currencies, including the U.S. dollar, or used to purchase goods or services, usually online. With the rising use of virtual currencies in the global marketplace, it may entice fraudsters to lure investors into Ponzi and other schemes in which these currencies are used to facilitate fraudulent, or simply fabricated, investments or transactions.
The fraud may also involve an unregistered offering or trading platform. These schemes often promise high returns for getting in on the ground floor of a growing Internet phenomenon.
Fraudsters may also be attracted to using virtual currencies to perpetrate their frauds because transactions in virtual currencies supposedly have greater privacy benefits and less regulatory oversight than transactions in conventional currencies. Any investment in securities in the United States remains subject to the jurisdiction of the SEC regardless of whether the investment is made in U.S. dollars or a virtual currency. In particular, individuals selling investments are typically subject to federal or state licensing requirements.
Many Ponzi schemes share common characteristics. Here are some red flags:
- High investment returns with little or no risk.Every investment carries some degree of risk, and investments yielding higher returns typically involve more risk. “Guaranteed” investment returns or promises of high returns for little risk should be viewed skeptically.
- Overly consistent returns.Investments tend to go up and down over time, especially those seeking high returns. Be suspect of an investment that generates consistent returns regardless of overall market conditions.
- Unregistered investments.Ponzi schemes typically involve investments that have not been registered with the SEC or with state securities regulators.
- Unlicensed sellers. Federal and state securities laws require certain investment professionals and their firms to be licensed or registered. Many Ponzi schemes involve unlicensed individuals or unregistered firms.
- Secretive and/or complex strategies and fee structures. It is a good rule of thumb to avoid investments you don’t understand or for which you can’t get complete information.
- No minimum investor qualifications. Most legitimate private investment opportunities require you to be an accredited investor. You should be highly skeptical of investment opportunities that do not ask about your salary or net worth
- Issues with paperwork. Be skeptical of excuses regarding why you can’t review information about the investment in writing. Always read and carefully consider an investment’s prospectus or disclosure statement before investing. Be on the lookout for errors in account statements which may be a sign of fraudulent activity.
- Difficulty receiving payments. Be suspicious if you don’t receive a payment or have difficulty cashing out your investment. Ponzi scheme organizers sometimes encourage participants to “roll over” promised payments by offering higher investment returns.
- It comes through someone with a shared affinity. Fraudsters often exploit the trust derived from being members of a group that shares an affinity, such as a national, ethnic or religious affiliation. Sometimes, respected leaders or prominent members may be enlisted, knowingly or unknowingly, to spread the word about the “investment.”
Where do you go for Help?
If you have a question or concern about an investment, or you think you have encountered fraud, please contact the SEC, FINRA or your state securities regulator to report the fraud and to get assistance.
North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA)
750 First Street, NE
Washington, D.C. 20002