If you know anything about cryptocurrency and the supposed investment opportunities that go along with it, you’ve probably run across more than a few shady details so far.
Originally created as an anonymous payment currency—for people who want to make purchases that don’t leave a financial paper trail—these non-existent “coins” are now the stuff of ransomware payment, Dark Web purchases, crypto jacking and investment scams.
In this newest scam, someone launches an Initial Coin Offering or ICO. This is much like starting a business or purchasing property, then offering “shares” for sale to investors. The weird thing about even the most genuine, legal ICO of cryptocurrency is that the shares the investor buys are for an object that doesn’t exist.
Many states are cracking down on cryptocurrency and ICO scams in order to protect consumers who are lured in by “strike while the iron is hot” sales pitches from dealers. This multi-state effort, known as “Operation Cryptosweep,” has already involved 70 ICOs, resulting in the prosecution of 34 separate cases.
Investing has a long history of producing both financial gains and losses for those who participate. If you think of investing as not only benefitting the investor but also the company—helping it to grow, expand, bring in new people and technologies and more with the money made from the sale of shares—then it makes sense for those who’ve done their homework. But investing in cryptocurrency is one-sided, meaning the goal is to buy as much as possible of this non-existent token and hope that its value somehow increases, despite the fact that it’s not a business that offers a product or service. The entire investment is based on the hope that more people will be enticed into buying it later, driving its value up.
Some experts worry that the flash-in-the-pan craze associated with cryptocurrency investing will result in so many burned investors that typical, sounder forms of investing will be damaged by associating with the losses.
North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) President Joseph Borg has announced, “The persistently expanding exploitation of the crypto ecosystem by fraudsters is a significant threat to Main Street investors in the United States and Canada, and NASAA members are committed to combating this threat.”
If you’re ever interested in an investment opportunity—whether in a real commodity, real business or crypto-item—you’ve got to do your homework. It’s not just a matter of accidentally losing your investment when it doesn’t pay off (which is part of the stakes in any speculation), but the real danger is in the anonymous nature of ICOs and cryptocurrency. As unsecured forms of currency, there is no agency to back you up and protect your investment if it turns out bad.