Cryptocurrency entered the mainstream economy in 2013 when Forbes listed Bitcoin as the best investment of that year, calling 2013 the “year of the bitcoin.” Then, in 2014, Bloomberg News made the statement that Bitcoin was one of the year’s worst investments. Since these early days, citizens and economists alike have remained skeptical of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Over the past few years, celebrities have gotten increasingly involved in “pushing cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens at a speed once reserved for viral dances,” according to the Washington Post. In the wake of recent events, the Securities and Exchange Commission is beginning to crack down on celebrity endorsement that has gone too far.
On May 18, 2022, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a novel and divisive decision that greatly restricts the administrative enforcement powers of the SEC and its use of Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) in Jarksey v. SEC. Although much deliberation has been had over the implications and immediate impact of this ruling, the takeaway is that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may be facing significant challenges to its internal enforcement procedures in the near future.
Whistleblowing – a powerful weapon in the arsenal of defense against fraud – is a highly effective tool utilized by the government to enforce regulatory compliance. Nevertheless, many employees remain hesitant to initiate criminal proceedings. In 2021, in an effort to dispel such concerns and to empower potential whistleblowers to take action, Congress enacted the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA).
Every year, hundreds of financial advisors and brokers across the country are convicted of a host of bad acts, which include conducting Ponzi schemes, misappropriating client funds and forging customer signatures. 2021 was no exception. Here are ten recent examples of how the legal system as well as regulators in the financial services industry, respond to allegations of fraud, misappropriation, improper hiring practices, and criminal activity.
The process of the criminal trial of the youngest woman self-made billionaire, has recently started up again after being stalled due to Covid restrictions in the past year. Former CEO and founder of Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes, and her former president and one-time boyfriend, Ramesh Balwani, have been accused of misleading investors and raising hundreds of millions of dollars by making false or exaggerated claims in defiance of the anti-fraud provisions of federal securities laws. While she is currently facing a federal indictment on twelve different charges, including two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and ten counts of wire fraud, Holmes has already settled her civil charges, which were brought forth by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). The civil charges brought forth by the SEC have now put Silicon Valley on alert by ensuring that technology companies who claim that they have a new groundbreaking technology that can change the world must be based on factual evidence, not purely myths.
On September 20, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission charged three individuals with conducting fraudulent crowdfunding schemes while also bringing charges against the crowdfunding portal where the offerings were conducted in SEC v. Shumake. As the first case being pursued under Regulation Crowdfunding, a number of questions wait on the horizon regarding the responsibility of crowdfunding platforms to protect investors when orchestrating such offerings.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reached a rather auspicious milestone in September when it announced that, with the addition of two recent awards totaling $114 million, the aggregate amount of monies paid out under the SEC’s whistleblower program since its implementation in 2011 has exceeded $1 billion. In fiscal year 2021 alone, the SEC has awarded a record $500 million. The SEC also reported that award payments have been made to a total of 207 whistleblowers. In a statement, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler said, “[This] announcement underscores the important role that whistleblowers play in helping the SEC detect, investigate and prosecute potential violations of the securities laws.” The two most recent awards included a payment of $110 million to an individual who, according to the SEC, provided the SEC and another regulatory agency with “independent analysis that substantially advanced the SEC’s and the other agency’s investigation” and culminated in successful enforcement actions. Another whistleblower also provided original information to the SEC and received an award of approximately $4 million, although the smaller amount reflects the fact that the information passed on was significantly more limited in scope. As is its standard policy, the SEC declined to specifically name either of the whistleblowers involved or the cases and companies to which they were connected.
Mail-in voting has been in the forefront this election season due to persistent COVID-19 concerns. Tensions exist between those who claim that mail-in voting is a safe and valid alternative to in-person voting and those who argue that it will lead to widespread voter fraud and inaccurate election results. Illinois was recently front and center in this national discussion when a Facebook post went viral, asserting that an Illinois couple who received multiple ballot applications could submit them all and vote multiple times without anyone knowing. Far from true, such misconceptions have many questioning how states will monitor mail-in voting to ensure that it remains an effective option in this crucial election.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) has shaken the world economy, not the least of which the financial industry. As the financial industry has adapted to work-from-home life under the coronavirus pandemic, industry regulators such as the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) have been forced to adapt rules to changing circumstances and shift their enforcement priorities to pandemic related fraud.
In the age of digitization, data seems less secure than ever. Public companies constantly attempt to safeguard both personal and financial data, yet their efforts fail due to new outbreaks of malicious encryption viruses and persistent email phishing attempts. Data breaches and cyber fraud carry severe financial implications for public companies who fall victim to these types of attacks. But a new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) report says that public companies that are easy targets of cyber scams could also be in violation of federal securities laws and accounting regulations that call for firms to safeguard their assets. Although the SEC has issued its warning to public companies about the compliance and financial risks posed by cyber fraud, many companies are still struggling to implement effective protections against newly-evolved forms of cyber-attacks.