The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is vehemently opposed to a common crowdfunding practice in the cryptocurrency industry called the initial coin offering (ICO). An ICO is similar to an initial public offering where a company or corporation raises investment capital by offering its stock to the public for the first time. Only in an ICO, a digital currency or token is distributed instead of a stock, and the token can have a variety of uses that blur the line of what defines a traditional security.
Still, the SEC believes that the way ICOs are funded has them falling under security laws, and the companies interested in launching an initial coin offering need to comply with SEC private placement rules and investor protection guidelines. Those that fail to comply, may be subject to cease and desist letters in the future, as has happened with a number of US-based ICOs.
To further warn potential investors of the dangers initial coin offerings, the SEC has published a website on the increasingly popular capital raising method, providing what the SEC calls the “three ‘Rs’ of ICOs: Risks Rewards and Responsibilities.”
The website reads:
“Companies and individuals are increasingly considering initial coin offerings (ICOs) as a way to raise capital or participate in investment opportunities. While these digital assets and the technology behind them may present a new and efficient means for carrying out financial transactions, they also bring increased risk of fraud and manipulation because the markets for these assets are less regulated than traditional capital markets.’
The list of potential risks, rewards, and responsibilities is directed both at investors and potential ICO issuers and cover off on how initial coin offerings could be securities, may need to be registered with the SEC, or may pose “substantial risks.” To avoid those risks, the SEC warns investors to do their own research, ask questions, to understand the product, and to take extreme caution if and when an investment sounds “too good to be true.”
The SEC also takes the opportunity to warn would-be ICO issuers, asking them to “use caution before promoting offers and selling coins.”
A month ago, the SEC launched a fake ICO website called HoweyCoins.com to provide a working example of what a fraudulent ICO may look like. Investors who clicked on any of the fake site’s ‘buy now’ buttons, were redirected to educational materials on what red flags to look out for when considering investing in an ICO.
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