Pasieczny Moderates PIABA Panel on Cryptocurrency Investment Regulation

Current cryptocurrency regulation and cryptocurrency investment regulation can be summed up in one phrase:  Regulation by Enforcement.

I moderated a great panel presentation this weekend on Cryptocurrency Investments, Supervision and Securities Regulation at PIABA’s mid-year CLE event in Los Angeles on May 5, 2018.  We discussed the current state of regulation as well as the nuts-and-bolts of blockchain technology: everything from Bitcoin, the basics of utility tokens, security keys, and even ranging into CryptoKitties.  Our audience included securities attorneys, law professors, and representatives from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  I was joined by Professor Benjamin Edwards (William S. Boyd School of Law, University of Las Vegas, Nevada), securities attorney and former SEC Enforcement officer Celiza Braganca (Braganca Law LLC), and industry expert Louis Straney (Arbitration Insight LLC).

Most securities professionals that I’ve talked with consider cryptocurrency investments the Wild West in terms of regulation and safeguards (minimal to none) for the investing public.   The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), the association of state securities regulators, would agree.

Accumulating SEC enforcement actions and reports like the “DAO Report,” Release No. 81207 (June 25, 2017), are the current guides that issuers and industry participants have for what to do, or not do, so that an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) or Initial Token Offering (ITO) complies with existing federal and state securities laws. This kind of “regulation by enforcement” leaves industry participants guessing at what they can do as the technology changes.   And, the SEC and state securities regulators are by no means the only regulatory bodies overlapping with enforcement.  The Internal Revenue Service, FinCen, the CFTC, criminal law, and private class actions are all taking their pound of flesh from industry participants.   FINRA’s 2018 Regulatory and Examination Priorities Letter notes that the SRO will be keeping an eye on developments with ICOs and the supervisory and compliance mechanisms that brokerage firms have put in place for compliance with securities laws and FINRA rules.

But, since December, 2017, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has allowed cryptocurrency futures contract trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.  Goldman Sachs recently announced that it will open a Bitcoin trading desk, and now the New York Times reports that the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange, Intercontinental Exchange, has been working on an online trading platform for large investors to buy and hold Bitcoin.   The confidence of these institutions may lead the market in another round of soaring blockchain hype and eager investors buying in … to what?

Warren Buffet made his feelings about clear when he called Bitcoin “probably rat poison squared” in an interview with CNBC over the weekend.

If a FINRA-licensed broker or SEC-licensed registered financial advisor makes recommendations for a customer to buy cryptocurrency investments, it could be a big red flag for a compliance department.  SEC Chairman Jay Clayton has basically said that he thinks all cryptocurrency-related investments are securities.  But the SEC hasn’t issued specific cryptocurrency regulations, and it seems to be relying on shutting down unregistered ICOs and ITOs to create a regulatory roadmap.  Do those offerings sound like Initial Public Offerings (IPOs)?  You are correct, that’s on purpose.  But, importantly, unlike an IPO, you get no ownership interest when buying into an ICO or ITO. There’s no there, there. Unfortunately for investors duped into participating in a fraudulent cryptocurrency offering or hacked offering, the likelihood is that your money is halfway around the world and difficult to recover from the issuer.

I suspect the future of cryptocurrency regulation will include increased claims for participant liability under state securities laws that offer broader investor protections than those provided by federal law.  Attorneys and accountants assisting issuers in these fraudulent offering should be held accountable under appropriate circumstances.  I bring participant liability claims under state blue sky laws to recover investment losses for individuals and groups of individuals.  And, if financial advisors are actively making purchase recommendations to clients otherwise unwilling to take on high risk, speculative investments, there could be viable FINRA arbitration claims against the brokerage firms that allow their brokers to make irresponsible, unsuitable recommendations.

If you have concerns about how your money is being handled by your financial professional, or concerns that you or a loved one might be the victim of financial exploitation, call me at 1-800-647-8130.  Consultations are free, and confidential.

Darlene Pasieczny’s practice at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP focuses on all stages of corporate and securities law issues, securities litigation and FINRA arbitration, fiduciary litigation in trust and estate disputes, and complex civil litigation. Darlene’s practice includes representing investors nationwide in investment disputes through FINRA arbitration.

Investor Alert – NASAA and SEC Warn about Cryptocurrency Related Investments

This past Thursday, the same day I posted about a recent FINRA Investor Alert regarding cryptocurrency, there was a new press release from the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) with further guidance on the same topic. NASAA’s analysis and warning amounts to this:  Initial Coin Offerings (“ICOs”), and all other investment products related to cryptocurrency or the blockchain, pose a threat to investors.

“A NASAA survey of state and provincial securities regulators shows 94 percent believe there is a ‘high risk of fraud’ involving cryptocurrencies. Regulators also were unanimous in their view that more regulation is needed for cryptocurrency to provide greater investor protection.”

The same day, the SEC made a public statement from Chairman Jay Clayton and Commissioners Kara M. Stein and Michael S. Piwowar, in wholehearted agreement with NASAA:  “The NASAA release also reminds investors that when they are offered and sold securities they are entitled to the benefits of state and federal securities laws, and that sellers and other market participants must follow these laws. Unfortunately, it is clear that many promoters of ICOs and others participating in the cryptocurrency – related investment markets are not following these laws. The SEC and state securities regulators are pursuing violations, but we again caution you that, if you lose money, there is a substantial risk that our efforts will not result in a recovery of your investment.”

“High risk of fraud”?  That’s a polite understatement. The conditions in this cryptocurrency market are the perfect conditions for bad actors to harm investors and cause investment losses. How? Fraud through market manipulation. Fraud through technical manipulation. Fraud through plain theft. Adverse terms and conditions on a clickthrough agreement. Technical failure, incompetence, malfeasance on the part of the provider. Cyberthreats from third parties online, vandals or burglars. Misrepresentations of the real possibility that cryptocurrency is an object of temporary interest, the bubble will pop, and prices will drop.

And, of course, bad actor conduct includes flawed recommendations by financial advisors to jump in and buy these new, complicated products related to cryptocurrency.  If your portfolio contains investments that, on closer examination, are not plausible or not understandable, that’s one of the ten red flags of financial fraud.

As a securities attorney, I represent investors nationwide who have lost money due to the conduct of a financial professional or a defective investment product.

The Investor Defenders at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP help investors get their money back from brokerage fraud, fraudulent investments, elder financial abuse, and other situations.  Our specialized investment litigation practice combines familiarity with complex financial modeling, experience with specialized FINRA arbitration rules and securities laws, and empathy for our clients whose financial losses have become personal.

If you have concerns about how your money is being handled by your financial professional, or if your broker has stopped returning your calls, contact me for a free, confidential consultation at 1-800-647-8130.

Darlene Pasieczny’s practice at Samuels Yoelin Kantor focuses on all stages of corporate and securities law issues, securities litigation and FINRA arbitration, fiduciary litigation in trust and estate disputes, and complex civil litigation. Darlene’s practice also includes representing investors nationwide in investment disputes.

Investor Alert – Cryptocurrency Stock Scams

FINRA recently released an Investor Alert on cryptocurrency scams. Investors should be wary of jumping into this “hot,” volatile sector, and do their research before handing over their money to a potential fraudster, or for a risky investment that they don’t understand.

In the last quarter, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ripple have received a fresh burst of press attention. This includes reporting on massive price swings up and down, and stories of overnight millionaires. According to the media, a Welsh man who spilled lemonade on his laptop in 2013 and absentmindedly threw the hard drive away now wants to mine the local dump for the hard drive. Why? It contained the key to access his lost Bitcoin fortune said to be worth $100 million — but only if he finds it and if the drive is still operational.  It’s a good metaphor for Wild West, gold rush atmosphere of the whole cryptocurrency hype.

With this Investor Alert, and other recent warnings, FINRA points out that:

According to a December 11, 2017, public statement from SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, the number of such investments registered with the SEC is ZERO. “Investors should understand that to date no initial coin offerings have been registered with the SEC. The SEC also has not to date approved for listing and trading any exchange-traded products (such as ETFs) holding cryptocurrencies or other assets related to cryptocurrencies.”

As a securities attorney, I represent investors nationwide who have lost money due to the conduct of a financial professional or a defective investment product.

The Investor Defenders at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP help investors get their money back from brokerage fraud, fraudulent investments, elder financial abuse, and other situations.  Our specialized investment litigation practice combines familiarity with complex financial modeling, experience with specialized FINRA arbitration rules and securities laws, and empathy for our clients whose financial losses have become personal.

If you have concerns about how your money is being handled by your financial professional, or if your broker has stopped returning your calls, contact me. Consultations are free and confidential. Call 1-800-647-8130 now.

Darlene Pasieczny’s practice at Samuels Yoelin Kantor focuses on all stages of corporate and securities law issues, securities litigation and FINRA arbitration, fiduciary litigation in trust and estate disputes, and complex civil litigation. Darlene’s practice also includes representing investors nationwide in investment disputes.