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SEC Charges Founders of Centra Tech With Fraud as ICO Crackdown Intensifies

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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) widened its clampdown on initial coin offerings Monday by charging the founders of Centra Tech Inc. with fraud. The ICO, which was promoted by celebrities like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and DJ Khaled, raised more than $32 million last year.

Co-Founders Charged

Washington’s top securities regulator announced Monday it has charged Sohrab Sharma and Robert Farkas with fraud after they sold millions of dollars in “unregistered securities” through a CTR token. The Florida-based company claims to be “creating a world connected to cryptocurrency” through blockchain products such as e-wallets and prepaid cards. The token sale was held between Sept. 19 and Oct. 5.

According to the SEC’s official press release, criminal authorities have separately charged and arrested the co-founders on the same fraud allegations.

The SEC took issue with Centra’s claim that its debit card is backed by Visa and MasterCard, when in reality the company had no connection with the credit card providers. Regulators also believe the co-founders created fake biographies and posted “false or misleading marketing materials” to fleece investors out of millions of dollars.

Celebrity Endorsements

While ICO fraud is not uncommon, Centra deviated from the norm by seeking out celebrity endorsements and publishing the actual names of its co-founders. The company allegedly paid for endorsements from celebrities like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and DJ Khaled. For example, Mayweather made the following tweet from his official Twitter handle on Sept. 18:

Steve Peikin, Co-Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, called out Centra’s use of celebrities to market a fake product.

“[T]he defendants relied heavily on celebrity endorsements and social media to market their scheme,” he said, according to the press release.  “Endorsements and glossy marketing materials are no substitute for the SEC’s registration and disclosure requirements as well as diligence by investors.”

At the time of writing, Centra’s CRT token was still available for purchase on exchanges such as Binance and Cryptopia.

SEC Targets ICOs

The SEC has made ICOs the center of its investigation into the cryptocurrency market, putting startups on high alert about securities misconduct. Federal oversight is being administered through a cyber task force dedicated to coin offerings and the wider blockchain arena. While investigations have been ongoing for the better part of a year, the SEC announced in February that it was conducting a formal probe into the market. Several media outlets reported that the regulator had issued dozens of subpoenas and information requests to companies and advisers involved in ICOs.

At last check, the SEC had issued subpoenas to 80 cryptocurrency companies as part of its ongoing investigation into token sales.

The red-hot ICO market started off 2018 with a bang, but has since cooled significantly, according to the latest industry data. ICOs raised a total of $601 million in March, which was less than half of the February tally and the lowest number since August.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.6 stars on average, based on 494 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he specializes in cryptocurrency, economics and the broader financial markets. Sam has nearly eight years of progressive experience as an analyst, writer and financial market commentator where he has contributed to the world's foremost newscasts.




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Crypto Regulation: A Tectonic Shift Is Occurring

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What caused the crypto crash that began last December?  There are some observers silly enough to believe it was all the fault of the CBOE by starting the first Bitcoin futures contracts.  Others believe it was just the bursting of a bubble that was long overdue.

Most likely, the ban on crypto exchanges by the Chinese government and the fear of a total ban on ownership played a very big role in starting the selling wave.  That wave has continued practically to this day. But there is evidence that things are changing.

Since the moves by China, virtually every publication worth its weight in Satoshi has been fueling fears of suffocating governmental regulation.  We’re taking nothing away from these folks because regulation is a big factor for investors.

Barron’s: Regulate Out of Existence

After reading last weeks edition of Barron’s I concluded we have reached the worst in the mania over regulation.  Three of the world’s most “respected” economists, according to Barron’s, Joseph Stiglitz, Nouriel Roubini and Kenneth Rogoff, put the kibosh on crypto on the sole basis that it will be “regulated into oblivion”.  This is just the sort of editorial approach that Barron’s has long been known for.

Of course, there was the volatility versus storehouse of value argument and the declaration that nobody uses Bitcoin as a medium of exchange so it can never be worth anything. The shortcoming of so many economists is their insistence on being chained to history.  

It Is All About Money

After a period of largely negative regulatory developments during the past seven months, signs are emerging that things are changing as governments get more familiar with the benefits of nurturing blockchain technology and crypto. In the end, it is all about governments finally figuring ways to make money from crypto. Once that occurs, they realize, we are all in the same boat.

The Regulatory Paradox

This brings things to what some observers refer to the government regulation paradox. In other words, investors need government to deter price manipulation and other scams. But the unregulated autonomous nature is a big reason that investors bought into crypto in the first place.  So far the trick has been to find a middle ground.

If you take a long look at the issue there is a new trend emerging.  One by one governments are beginning to appreciate the importance of blockchain technology and the role of cryptocurrencies.  The initial adversarial role is being replaced with a more cooperative attitude. Crypto values aren’t going to increase exponentially overnight as a result. Nevertheless, having cooperative regulators is critical to mass acceptance.  Here are a few encouraging signs.

SEC declares Bitcoin and Ether Non Securities

It has been some time now that the US Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that neither Bitcoin or Ether were securities.  The idea is that, so long as there is no conveyance of ownership, everybody is safe. This includes most ICOs as well even though a formal ruling has yet to be given.  This clears up a giant cloud that investors have pretty much ignored.

Changing Government Attitudes in Switzerland

As the U.S. and other countries attempt to exert greater AML and KYC rules, projects are leaving in favor of places like Singapore, Malta and Gibraltar where a connection to the international banking system is available. Information coming from Switzerland predicts that by year end, Swiss banks will be open to dealing with crypto.  As the traditional home of banking secrecy, Switzerland is the ideal place for crypto to make inroads. For the Swiss economy, it is all about finance. Last year, ICO projects brought in almost $1.5 billion that Swiss bankers were losing out on. This could prove to be a landmark decision.

Upstaging China

On any given day, Asia can account for a big share of global crypto trading.  Seven months ago the Chinese government actions threatened the health of the market.  This is understandingly leading governments elsewhere to open their doors.

Improving Asian Trading

Asian regulators are standing by to take advantage of any serious restrictions in China. In Thailand, the securities industry association is working with regulators to establish a joint cryptocurrency exchange and is working with the Thai SEC to get an operating license.  And this month the SEC approved a new two-tier vetting procedure to create accredited ICOs.

All this was made possible because the Thai government wasted no time in declaring crypto as digital assets and skipped the endless debate.  Sometimes a government dictatorship has its advantages.

And finally, signs of improvement in Japanese regulations are being reported that could lead to creating a market for crypto ETFs.

Wrapping Up

It is entirely possible that government regulation could be one of the most boring topics in the history of mankind. But we can all agree that it has hurt every long term crypto investor. We can also agree that there has been a lot of “piling on” by the media this entire year. So I decided to take on a thankless task in the interest of providing some balance to opinions of professors Stiglitz, Roubini and Rogoff. Thanks for keeping me company.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.4 stars on average, based on 87 rated postsJames Waggoner is a veteran Wall Street analyst and hedge fund manager who has spent the past few years researching the fintech possibilities of cryptocurrencies. He has a special passion for writing about the future of crypto.




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India Unlikely to Ban Cryptocurrency, Government Officials Say

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India’s cryptocurrency saga has taken another turn after government officials indicated that a blanket ban on digital assets is not in the cards. The remarks came mere days after the Supreme Court upheld a banking ban on digital currencies, effectively prohibiting fiat-to-crypto transactions on domestic exchanges.

Blanket Ban on Cryptocurrencies Unlikely

A cryptocurrency panel set up by India’s finance ministry has concluded that digital assets are unlikely to face a comprehensive ban. Instead, crypto assets will most likely be regulated as commodities, according to a senior government officials with ties to the panel.

In an interview with Quartz, the insider said:

“I don’t think anyone is really thinking of banning it [cryptocurrencies] altogether. The issue here is about regulating the trade and we need to know where the money is coming from. Allowing it as a commodity may let us better regulate trade and so that is being considered.”

Hacked previously reported that the government committee was against banning cryptocurrencies, though it wasn’t clear what direction new regulations would take. The decision to regulate cryptocurrencies was later confirmed by Department of Economic Affairs secretary Subash Chandra Garg, who indicated that a new draft bill would be presented to government officials sometime this month.

“We are fairly close to developing a template that we think is in the best interests of the country,” Garg told India’s largest financial media outlet in reference to new cryptocurrency regulations.

According to Quartz, the main task of the cryptocurrency committee is to ensure that digital assets do not facilitate money laundering and other forms of illicit financing.

“Trade is not a criminal offence. Most of us trade in various asset classes in the stock market. So how is this [cryptocurrency trading] any different? What has to be in place is a mechanism to be sure that the money used is not illegal money, and to track its source is the most important thing,” the official said.

RBI Ban in Effect

As of last week, Indian lenders have been barred from servicing cryptocurrency exchanges and their users as part of an industry-wide crackdown on digital assets. The measures were first announced in early April by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which gave state-regulated financial institutions three months to comply with the edict.

The matter made it all the way to the Supreme Court after several firms challenged the ban on grounds that it was unconstitutional. However, the Supreme Court refused to grant interim relief to those affected by the new policy.

It is not entirely clear why the RBI decided to bar financial institutions from dealing with crypto-related businesses. What’s more, central bankers were unable to justify their ruling according to an information request submitted by a New Delhi lawyer shortly after the ban was announced.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.6 stars on average, based on 494 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he specializes in cryptocurrency, economics and the broader financial markets. Sam has nearly eight years of progressive experience as an analyst, writer and financial market commentator where he has contributed to the world's foremost newscasts.




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South Korean Lawmakers Put Cryptocurrency Regulations on the Fast Track 

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Lawmakers in South Korea are building on previous efforts to fast-track cryptocurrency regulations in one of the world’s largest blockchain markets, a move that could make the Asian country more desirable for proponents of the burgeoning sector. Notably, the proposed plan leaves the door wide open to regulating initial coin offerings (ICOs), a funding mechanism that was banned in 2017.

Fast-Tracking Crypto Regulations

According to the Korea Times, lawmakers from across the political spectrum have joined forces to draft new cryptocurrency bills that could be proposed to the National Assembly as early as this week. The National Assembly will convene for an extended session between July 13 and 26.

Although it is unclear if any of the bills will be signed into law during the session, the submissions will serve as a “catalyst” for further debate within the Assembly, the Korean Times reports.

Representative Park Yong-jin of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea is leading the push to regulate cryptocurrencies along with opposition members Chung Tae-ok (Liberty Party Korea) and Choung Byoung-gug (Bareun Mirae Party).

Park has been championing crypto regulations since at least July 2017 when he proposed three new bills to regulate the emerging market.

AML/KYC in Focus

Hacked reported last month that South Korea’s financial watchdog was looking to expedite new cryptocurrency regulations in the wake of multiple cyber attacks on domestic exchanges. To that effect, the  Financial Services Commission (FSC) announced measures to beef up  anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) guidelines for online exchanges. The new measures include guidelines for Customer Due Diligence (CDD) and enhanced background checks.

The guidelines set forth by the FSC mark a significant department from how crypto exchanges are presently regulated in South Korea. Previously, online exchanges were considered merely “communication vendors,” which significantly lowered the entry requirements for businesses seeking to establish an online exchange.

Financial regulators expedited their adoption of new guidelines in the wake of a $37 million theft of Coinrail and $30 million heist of Bithumb. Both attacks occurred within the span of a week.

South Korean exchanges are among the largest in the world when measured by average daily trade volumes. On Wednesday, Bithumb was ranked eighth in the world by volumes, according to CoinMarketCap.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.6 stars on average, based on 494 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he specializes in cryptocurrency, economics and the broader financial markets. Sam has nearly eight years of progressive experience as an analyst, writer and financial market commentator where he has contributed to the world's foremost newscasts.




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