SEC Warns Investors About Binary Options and Charges Cyprus-Based Company with Selling Them Illegally in U.S.
The Securities and Exchange Commission today warned investors about the potential risks of investing in binary options and has charged a Cyprus-based company with selling them illegally to U.S. investors.
Binary options are securities in the form of options contracts whose payout depends on whether the underlying asset - for instance a company's stock - increases or decreases in value. In such an all-or nothing payout structure, investors betting on a stock price increase face two possible outcomes when the contract expires: they either receive a pre-determined amount of money if the value of the asset increased over the fixed period, or no money at all if it decreased.
The SEC alleges that Banc de Binary Ltd. has been offering and selling binary options to investors across the U.S. without first registering the securities as required under the federal securities laws. The company has broadly solicited U.S customers by advertising through YouTube videos, spam e-mails, and other Internet-based advertising. Banc de Binary representatives have communicated with investors directly by phone, e-mail, and instant messenger chats. Banc de Binary also has been acting as a broker when offering and selling these securities, but failed to register with the SEC as a broker as required under U.S. law.
The SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today issued a joint Investor Alert to warn investors about fraudulent promotional schemes involving binary options and binary options trading platforms. Much of the binary options market operates through Internet-based trading platforms that are not necessarily complying with applicable U.S. regulatory requirements and may be engaging in illegal activity.
"Just because foreign companies can more easily communicate with American investors doesn't mean they should skirt our longstanding laws that protect investors by requiring registration of securities," said Andrew J. Ceresney, Co-Director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement. "Banc de Binary contacted U.S. investors through the Internet and YouTube but completely disregarded the U.S. securities laws' registration requirements. We will aggressively combat such conduct no matter where it originates."
According to the SEC's complaint against Banc de Binary filed in federal court in Nevada, the company began offering and selling binary options to U.S. investors in 2010. Banc de Binary induced investors to create accounts with the company, deposit money into those accounts, and then purchase binary options whose underlying assets include stock and stock indices. Banc de Binary's solicitation of U.S. investors has been quite successful and attracted some customers with very modest means. For example, one investor had a monthly income of $300 and a net worth of less than $25,000, and another customer was encouraged to deposit additional funds into his Banc de Binary trading account even after he informed the Banc de Binary representative that he was unemployed with less than $1,000 in his checking account.
The SEC's complaint seeks disgorgement plus prejudgment interest, financial penalties, and preliminary and permanent injunctions against Banc de Binary among other relief. The CFTC today announced a parallel action against Banc de Binary. The SEC's investigation was conducted by Leslie A. Hakala and C. Dabney O'Riordan of the Los Angeles Regional Office. The SEC's litigation will be led by John W. Berry and Ms. Hakala. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the CFTC in this matter.
The Investor Alert on binary options was jointly issued by the SEC's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy and the CFTC's Office of Consumer Outreach. The bulletin discusses in detail the potential risks of investing in binary options, and warns investors that they may not have the full safeguards of the federal securities and commodities laws if they purchase unregistered binary options that are not subject to the oversight of U.S. regulators.
"Investors should be aware of the potential for fraud in this area as well as of the reality that they can lose their entire investment," said Lori Schock, Director of the SEC's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy. "We strongly encourage investors to check the background of brokers and advisers and trading platforms before making a decision to invest. If investors can't obtain simple background information such as whether the financial professional is registered with the SEC or FINRA, then they should be extremely wary."