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SEC sets up bogus coin offering site to warn investors what scams look like

  • Securities regulators created the website to show investors some of the ways a site can look valid when it actually could be a scam.
  • When you click "Buy Coins Now," you're taken to an SEC site that includes information on red flags to watch for when looking at investment opportunities that look too good to be true.
Photo by fizkes via Getty Images

There's a website out there touting a hot initial coin offering, and it happens to be bogus.

So who created it? The Securities and Exchange Commission.

HoweyCoins.com, set up to mimic other too-good-to-be-true coin offerings that have surged during the rise of bitcoin and other digital currencies, is a phony site intended to help investors recognize investment scams.

The site details how investors can get in on the offer, which purportedly combines blockchain technology and travel. It even says HoweyCoins are registered with the U.S. government and will trade on an SEC-compliant exchange.

The agency said it build the site in-house in very little time, demonstrating how easily someone can create a scam opportunity.

"We did this on a shoestring budget," said Lori Schock, director of the SEC's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy.

The site includes aspects that regulators view as common enticements to fraudulent offerings, such as a complex white paper, promises of guaranteed returns and a countdown clock showing how long you have left to get in on the deal.

When investors click on "Buy coins now," they are taken to an SEC site explaining they were about to be duped.

"We embrace new technologies, but we also want investors to see what fraud looks like, so we built this educational site with many of the classic warning signs of fraud," SEC Chairman Jay Clayton said in a statement.

The SEC has brought several fraud cases against operators of initial coin offerings. In total, the agency alleges $600 million has been raised in fraudulent schemes.

"Remember, too, fraud is underreported," Schock said. "State securities regulators also bring cases, and international regulators get involved when it involves [an entity] based overseas."

The best-known digital coin, bitcoin, has enjoyed a meteoric rise in value since its introduction in 2009. After hitting a high of $19,343 in December, the price for one bitcoin has zigzagged its way downward to about $8,300 as of Wednesday.

It's also a volatile investment. Over the last week alone, the price has ranged from a high of $9,371 to a low of $8,128.

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