On Wednesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy launched a mock initial coin offering (ICO) website, complete with a nine-page whitepaper, a suspicious set of founders, and overzealous celebrity endorsements. The agency billed "HoweyCoin" – an ode to the Howey Test – as "the newest and only coin offering that captures the magic of coin trading profits AND the excitement and guaranteed returns of the travel industry."
However, when potential investors click on one of the website's exuberant "Buy Coins Now!" links, they are redirected to a page on investor education.
"We've recently seen fraudsters pretending to be involved in blockchain technology, initial coin offerings, and crypto-currencies – when really they are simply operating scams designed to take investors' hard-earned money," the SEC wrote. "We created the bogus HoweyCoins.com site as an educational tool to alert investors to possible fraud involving digital assets like crypto-currencies and coin offerings."
The agency posted a series of "red flags" which can help investors deduce whether an "investment opportunity" is legitimate or a scam. The SEC warned against: claims of high, guaranteed returns; celebrity endorsements; claims of SEC-compliance; investing with a credit card; and pump and dump scams.
In addition, the commission included links to resources from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).