ICOs are big business. Since Satoshi’s white paper was released in 2009, the funding tool du jour has raised $20bn in capital. But in the United States, the heady days of anyone with a whitepaper raising millions may be over.
The U.S. Securities Exchange Commission is clamping down on ICOs across the board. Previously, the SEC was content to label ICOs “unregistered securities,” effectively telling would-be investors, “buy at your peril.” Occasionally officials from the commission would go after notably dodgy ones (see: Floyd Mayweather’s Centra for more details), but things are stepping up a gear. Two other U.S. bodies have joined the fray on what they’re calling a “crypto crackdown” to stop the sale of unregistered securities in the hope of making it a safer place to play for investors.
Investor watchdog the North American Securities Administrators Association has announced it's been quietly investigating 200 ICOs as part of Operation Cryptosweep. Set up in April this year, its remit was to examine and investigate ICOs before they were launched to the public. In that time, it identified 46 projects worthy of investigation by financial regulators, and requested information from crypto exchanges including Coinbase and Binance on their operations, conflicts of interest and use of bots (if you want to know how bots are used, this is a great place to start).
In Colorado, meanwhile, a separate ICO task force set up by the Division of Securities, part of the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), has sent orders to three cryptocurrency companies: Bionic Coin, Sybrelabs and Global Pay Net, asking them to prove they’re not just in it for the money. DORA lead the charge on bringing Bitconnect, the alleged head of which was arrested in Dubai, to justice earlier this year, suggesting these actions are more than sternly worded letters.
It’s no coincidence that this flurry of activity comes at a point when the good times of last December seem to have ended. While everyone was buying lambos and Eminem was thinking of what to write about for his next album, the SEC was warning would-be investors about crypto speculation and advised the public to steer clear. Credit card issuers tried to deter customers by blocking crypto purchases made on credit. Instead of heeding the warning, the general public decided to mortgage their houses to pay for their habit instead. And then the bubble burst.
While many would argue this kind of hand-holding by the feds is akin to a death knell for crypto’s utopian vision of money sans government control, trying to regulate an industry without a custodian is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute: hella fun, but ultimately ill-advised.