Continuing New Jersey’s efforts to protect investors from fraud in the cryptocurrency market, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced that the Bureau of Securities (“the Bureau”) has issued an emergency order to stop bitcoin, an online cryptocurrency-related investment entity, from fraudulently offering unregistered securities in the state.
In a Summary Cease and Desist Order issued today and effective immediately, the Bureau found that bitcoin a/k/a Bitocoiin B2G (collectively, “bitcoiin”) is violating the State’s Uniform Securities Law by offering investors unregistered securities in its Initial Coin Offering (“ICO”) of its own cryptocurrency – known as bitcoin 2nd Generation, bitcoin 2Gen, or B2G – and in its “bitcoin Staking Program.”
The Bureau also found that bitcoiin violated the law by failing to disclose key material facts to prospective investors, including the identities of its principals, the physical address of its business, and the risks associated with the bitcoin investments. bitcoin further violated the law by failing to disclose key information about its “brand ambassador,” a known movie and television actor, including how much he is being paid to promote the bitcoiin investments and whether he owns any bitcoin coins, the Bureau found.
“The Bureau’s actions today are a reminder to investors that while celebrity endorsements can add to the excitement and hype of cryptocurrency-related investments, they do not guarantee that an investment is sound or even legal,” said Attorney General Grewal. “As the online cryptocurrency-related investment market continues to evolve, the Bureau will vigilantly monitor the market to protect New Jersey investors from the high risk of fraud associated with these largely unregulated products.”
Cryptocurrencies are a medium of exchange that are created and stored electronically in the blockchain, a distributed public database that keeps a permanent record of digital transactions. Current common cryptocurrencies include Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin. Unlike traditional currency, these alternatives have no physical form and typically are not backed by tangible assets. They are not insured or controlled by a central bank or other governmental authority, cannot always be exchanged for other commodities, and are subject to little or no regulation.
“Investing in cryptocurrencies carries a significant risk that requires individuals to be extra vigilant in vetting offers before deciding to invest,” said Sharon M. Joyce, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “Alarm bells should go off when investors are asked to transmit funds to an unidentified online entity that fails to disclose who is behind its investment products, the financial status of its business, and the physical location of its operation.”
Bitcoiin, not to be confused with the better known Bitcoin, through its website at www.bitcoin.com and other social media, announced an ICO of its B2G coins starting on or about March 26, 2018. bitcoiin claims it is offering B2G to raise capital to build a “self-sufficient” ecosystem that includes the opportunity to purchase B2G, provide wallet staking, and to trade B2G, altcoins, and fiat currencies “on a secure, comprehensive platform.”
bitcoin claims that to finance its “project” it is conducting a crowd sale with an ideal financing amount of $250 million that would allow bitcoin “to implement the project quicker and also include a larger marketing manufacturing, technical development team.” The website claims that pre-ICO investors can purchase single B2Gs at a discounted price of $5 – half of what the launch price will be – and projects the coins will be worth $388 each by next December.
The second investment product being offered on the bitcoin website is the “bitcoin Staking Program” which offers potential investors in New Jersey the opportunity to purportedly earn “guaranteed” interest of 1 percent a month or 12 percent each year. According to the bitcoin website, to invest in the “bitcoin Staking Program” an investor need only purchase B2G and hold it in their “in-ecosystem wallet” which is accessible on the bitcoin website. The interest that is generated for the investor is purportedly derived from bitcoin’s mining operation. Potential investors also have the opportunity to earn commissions based on their recruitment of “affiliates” by promoting bitcoin investments through social media, videos, and websites.
The website’s landing page features a large photo of a known celebrity, touting him as the “official ambassador of bitcoin B2G.”
A bitcoin press release describes that the celebrity met with the organizers of bitcoin 2Gen and after reviewing their new business plan decided to endorse the bitcoin 2Gen ICO.
A small disclaimer at the bottom of the bitcoin website states that its “Celebrity spokesman holds no ownership interest in bitcoin B2G,” but Bitscoiin does not disclose what expertise, if any, the celebrity has to ensure that the investment is appropriate and in compliance with federal and state securities laws.
Additionally, there are no disclosures as to the nature, scope, and amount of compensation paid by bitcoin in exchange for the celebrity’s promotion of bitcoin 2Gen.
“When it comes to offering cryptocurrency-related securities in New Jersey, no one is above the law,” Christopher W. Gerold, Chief of the Bureau of Securities. “We will continue to protect investors by actively monitoring the internet to identify and stop dubious entities like bitcoin from flouting our securities laws.”
The Bureau’s action was handled by Deputy Bureau Chief Amy Kopleton, Director of Examinations Stephen Bouchard and Legal Officer Delfin Rodriguez of the Bureau of Securities, within the Division of Consumer Affairs.
The Bureau is charged with protecting investors from investment fraud and regulating the securities industry in New Jersey. It is critical that investors “Check Before You Invest.” Investors can obtain information, including the registration status and disciplinary history, of any financial professional doing business to or from New Jersey, by contacting the Bureau toll-free within New Jersey at 1-866-I-INVEST (1-866-446-8378) or from outside New Jersey at (973) 504-3600, or by visiting the Bureau’s website at www.NJSecurities.gov. Investors can also contact the Bureau for assistance or to raise issues or complaints about New Jersey-based financial professionals or investments.