Initial coin offerings are the current way to make money and get rich. A new part of the Securities and Exchange Commission (Cyber Unit) has been developed to investigate and prosecute ICOs. The first charges from the SEC targeted a scam that raised $15 million from thousands of investors with a promised to give back a 13-fold profit in less than a month.
Filed in Brooklyn federal court, the criminal complaint from the Cyber Unit, outlined how Dominic Lacroix sold PlexCoins or digital tokens as part of a plan “to increase access to cryptocurrency services.”
According to the Cyber Unit, the token offerings were an obvious rip-off. Lacroix, who lives in Canada, has broken securities laws in the past.
Robert Cohen, Chief of the Cyber Unit, stated, “This first Cyber Unit case hits all of the characteristics of a full-fledged cyber scam and its exactly the kind of misconduct the unit will demand pursuing. We acted quickly to protect retail investors from this initial coin offering’s false promises.”
The SEC plans to return some of the earnings from the scam by seizing accounts. The accounts targeted were used by Lacroix to take credit card payments from unsuspecting investors.
PayPal received over $380,000 on behalf of Lacroix, but became suspicious and overturned many of the payments.
With PayPal out of the picture, Lacroix lead investors to Stripe and Shopify. He raised $800,000 and $1.8 million from these two companies. The SEC is targeting the money in those accounts as well as Lacroix’s Canadian bank accounts.
The $15 million raised in the PlexCoin scam seems to have come from other cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum and Litecoin. There does not seem to be a policy on how the SEC will recover the cryptocurrency which is easily moved, hard to trace, and difficult to recover.
Fortune requested a statement from the SEC about how they were planning to seize the cryptocurrency payments. No statement was offered.
It is unclear whether Lacroix is in custody in Canada where charges from regulators are also pending, or if the U.S. will extradite him.
Is there a Growing Threat Concerning ICOs?
The PlexCoin scam highlights how the ICO process offers ways for startups to raise money separate from traditional investment networks and can be manipulated by swindlers selling quick get-rich schemes.
Most ICOs state they are selling tokens to access the new digital platforms. A landmark ruling by the SEC in July did outline how many tokens fall under the definition of securities and need to follow the agency’s rules and regulations.
Recently, the SEC filed a complaint against an investor who had two ICOs and promised to sell tokens backed by diamonds and real estate. In a veiled warning against Floyd Mayweather and Paris Hilton and others, the SEC warned celebrities they risk prosecution for endorsing digital tokens.
Created, in September, the Cyber United is the latest sign the SEC intends to seek out and shutdown suspect ICOs. A person close to the agency, claimed the Cyber Unit is copied after other specialized groups at the agency and includes existing staff members.
“The unit was created…to focus the Enforcement Division’s cyber-related expertise on misconduct involving distributed ledger technology and initial coin offerings, the spread of false information through electronic and social media, hacking and threats to trading platforms,” said the SEC in its Monday statement.