California fraud cases highlight the need for a regulatory crackdown on crypto – Recent cases involving crypto fraud serve as a timely reminder to do your own due diligence until regulators take more action. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) announced last month that it had issued desist and refrain orders to 11 entities for violating California securities laws. Some of the highlights included allegations that they offered unqualified securities as well as material misrepresentations and omissions to investors.
These violations should remind us that while crypto is a unique and exciting industry for the public at large, it is still an area that is rife with the potential for bad players and fraud. To date, government crypto regulation has been minimal at best, with a distinct lack of action. Whether you are a full-time professional investor or just a casual fan who wants to be involved, you need to be absolutely sure of what you are getting into before getting involved in any crypto opportunity.
California has toyed with setting up a crypto-specific business registration process for those looking to do business in the state. The proposed framework was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom as the resources required to establish and enforce such a framework would be prohibitive for the state. While this type of compliance infrastructure has not been employed yet, it points to concerns that regulatory authorities have related to the crypto industry.
There appears to be a pattern that new industries, especially those that garner as much international attention as crypto, are especially susceptible to fraud. One must go only as far back as cannabis legalization to find the last time California had to deal with fraudulent schemes at this scale.
It appears inevitable that California, known to be a first mover in regulation and compliance, will create some form of crypto-specific compliance infrastructure in the name of consumer protection. If history is any indication, once California releases its framework, other states will follow.
Federal and state representatives have been attempting to draft legislation to establish financial standards for crypto with little luck to date. At the federal level, Senators Cory Booker, John Thune, Debbie Stabenow and John Boozman co-sponsored a bill to empower the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to serve as the regulatory body for crypto, while Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Cynthia Lummis co-sponsored a bill to establish more clear guidance on digital assets and virtual currencies. Lawmakers have even reached out to tech luminaries such as Mark Zuckerberg to weigh in on crypto fraud.
None of these or other similarly crypto-focused bills are expected to pass in 2022, but this level of bipartisan cooperation has been unprecedented in recent times. The collaboration should reflect just the sheer magnitude of the need for a regulatory framework. Said another way, Democrats and Republicans speaking to one another about anything should stop the presses, but the fact that they are co-sponsoring multiple bills should tell us that there is a monumental requirement for guidance.
How should one approach investing in the crypto space if the government is not going to establish controls for crypto? There are a few general points that one should consider if they are presented with a crypto investment opportunity.
When reviewing any opportunity, do your due diligence! Do not take anyone’s word without some level of substantive support. If crypto is not an area of expertise, reach out to professionals who do have qualified experience. Make sure to utilize crypto monitoring and blockchain analysis tools, if possible, as part of the vetting process.
A common strategy of fraudsters is putting undue pressure or artificial timelines on a potential close. Slow down the process and use any and all time necessary to make an investment decision.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As overplayed as the cliché may be, it does bring up a valid point. There have been instances of schemes offering to pay initial and ongoing dividends for any new investors that are brought in and for additional dividends to be paid from any investors that those new investors bring in. If this sounds like a pyramid or multi-level marketing scheme, that’s because it is. Terms like “No Risk Investment” get thrown around as well. Ultimately, if no one knows where the opportunity is coming from, beware.
While crypto can be a fun and electrifying topic with many legitimate opportunities, there are bad players who will take advantage of the lack of government oversight and the excitement of overenthusiastic or undereducated investors.
Zach Gordon is a certified public accountant (CPA) and vice president of crypto accounting for Propeller Industries, serving as fractional chief financial officer and adviser to a portfolio of crypto and Web3 clients. He has been named a Forty Under 40 CPA, sits on the Digital Assets Committee for the NYSSCPA and has been working with crypto clients in a variety of capacities since 2016.