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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

DFPI cracks down on crypto-asset Ponzi schemes

State Issues Digital Assets State Regulators California DFPI Enforcement Cryptocurrency Securities

State Issues

On September 27, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation issued desist and refrain orders against 11 entities, including nine crypto asset trading platforms, one metaverse software development company, and one decentralized finance platform for violating California securities laws. While each of the 11 entities allegedly offered and sold unqualified securities through their platforms and promised various fixed rates of return to investors, DFPI claimed that the entities actually engaged in Ponzi-like schemes and used investor funds to distribute supposed profits and returns to other investors. Additionally, DFPI accused the entities of “luring” new investors through referral programs that operated like pyramid schemes in which investors would be paid commissions to recruit new investors. Referring to these as “high yield investment programs (HYIPs),” DFPI claimed the entities provided investors with few details about the people operating the HYIPs, how the HYIPs make money, or how the HYIPs facilitate deposits and withdrawals with crypto assets, among other things. DFPI also accused 10 of the 11 entities of making material representations and omissions to investors about the qualifications of their securities under California law as well as the purported risks. DFPI said in its announcement that it had been directed by an executive order issued by the governor in May (covered by InfoBytes here) to initiate enforcement actions to stop violations of consumer financial laws and to increase residents’ awareness of the benefits and risks associated with crypto asset-related financial products and services.