In recent years, the U.S. government has moved as fast as a slime mold to catch up with financial wrongdoers. It missed the 2008 credit bubble in an epic way and was never able to head off major market dumps, particularly the mysterious “flash crash” a few years ago.
But when it comes to cryptocurrency scams, some government agencies seem to be working at lightning speed, relatively speaking. That’s notable, because market regulators in the U.S. are rarely on top of tech-oriented trends.
The U.S. Commodities Future Trading Commission (CFTC), which regulates most currency and derivatives exchanges, recently filed suit against a New York-based company over an alleged Bitcoin Ponzi scam.
A Ponzi or “pyramid” scam is where a promoter promises investors unrealistic returns on fake investments. Early investors are paid from the cash generated by newer investors until the scheme falls apart. The money manager Bernie Madoff, who fleeced investors for about $60 billion, was one of the most famous pyramid operators.
According to CNN Money, the CFTC “claims that Nicholas Gelfman of Brooklyn, New York and his fund Gelfman Blueprint, Inc., which primarily invests in bitcoin, ‘fraudulently solicited more than $600,000 from approximately 80 persons.’ Gelfman, the CEO and head trader at Gelfman Blueprint, is said to have told investors that he ran a fund that ‘employed a high-frequency, algorithmic trading strategy.’ But the whole strategy was fake, according to the CFTC. According to some reports, officials are preparing even more drastic steps due to concerns the currency is being used for money laundering.”
Gelfman didn’t respond for a request for a comment.
Unrelated to the CFTC action was a move by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to “combat cyber-based threats and protect retail investors.”
Although the agency, which regulates securities markets, was vague about how it was going to police “cyber-based threats,” the regulator stated on Monday it would create a “Cyber Unit that will focus on targeting cyber-related misconduct and the establishment of a retail strategy task force that will implement initiatives that directly affect retail investors.”
Keep in the mind the SEC didn’t mention anything specific about crypotcurrencies, although one of its bullet points in its statement was focused on “violations involving distributed ledger technology and initial coin offerings.”
“Cyber-related threats and misconduct are among the greatest risks facing investors and the securities industry,” said Stephanie Avakian, co-director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.
“The Cyber Unit will enhance our ability to detect and investigate cyber threats through increasing expertise in an area of critical national importance.”
Why is the U.S. government suddenly interested in cryptocurrencies?
There’s a growing demand for ways to invest in cryptocurrencies, which are being created outside of government regulation.
And since cryptocurrencies may be be eventually listed on more transparent public exchanges, which can be regulated, governments are stepping into the fray. Note: The Chinese government, stating it was concerned by “investor security, money laundering and funding of terrorist activities,” recently banned Bitcoin exchanges.
Although government regulation of exchanges in general has been a tenuous proposition it’s never prevented bubbles – if it sheds more light on the code behind cryptocurrency trading and creation, it’s a step in the right direction. There needs to be more disclosure on these virtual currencies.
Sometimes the way in which these vehicles are offered – particularly if they’re illicit – can be hazardous to your wealth.