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Investor Alert: Attorney General James warns New Yorkers about cryptocurrency investment risks

New York Attorney General Letitia James today issued an alert to New Yorkers to remind them of the dangerous risks of investing in cryptocurrencies after the market reached record lows last month and investors lost hundreds of billions. Cryptocurrencies are subject to extreme and unpredictably high price swings that make them among the most high-risk investments on the market. Last month, some of those risks materialized as the price of multiple virtual currencies — from the newest coins to the most well-established coins — plunged deeply and wiped away hundreds of billions in investments. This is not the first time the market has plunged. To protect New Yorkers from this extreme volatility, Attorney General James offers New Yorkers guidance on the various risks associated with cryptocurrencies.

“Over and over again, investors are losing billions because of risky cryptocurrency investments,” said Attorney General James. “Even well-known virtual currencies from reputable trading platforms can still crash and investors can lose billions in the blink of an eye. Too often, cryptocurrency investments create more pain than gain for investors. I urge New Yorkers to be cautious before putting their hard-earned money in risky cryptocurrency investments that can yield more anxiety than fortune.”

The virtual currency market exposes investors to dangerous risks, such as wild price swings and potential losses due to hacking, fraud, or theft. Even “legitimate” investments in virtual assets are subject to speculative bubbles and security issues. Investors in virtual assets should beware of the many significant risks of investing in these products including:

  • Highly Speculative and Unpredictable Value: Virtual currencies are easy to create and spread in the market quickly. Their underlying value is highly subjective and unpredictable. As a result, prices can swing wildly and crash without warning and without regard to any changes in the real economy. At times, price fluctuations are driven by market hype on various social media platforms.
  • Difficulty Cashing Out Investments: There is no guarantee that you will be able to liquidate your investments when you want — such as when the crypto markets begin to crash. During times of crisis, trading platforms may halt trading or purport to experience technical difficulties, preventing you from accessing your assets.
  • Higher Transaction Costs: Some trading platforms charge fees on transactions such as transferring funds and withdrawing money. These fees can vary depending on the size of the transaction and overall trading volume. Therefore, it may also cost you more to access your assets when you need them the most.
  • Unstable “Stablecoins”: Despite their misleading name, there is no guarantee that your stablecoin investment is protected from decreasing value. The nature and quality of the assets backing stablecoins — if there are any assets backing the stablecoin — can vary greatly and along with that so can the risks associated with holding such coins.
  • Hidden Trading Costs: Value in cryptocurrencies and other virtual assets may be propped up by automated trading, or bots, that are, for example, programmed to spot when another trader is trying to make a purchase and then buy ahead of the trade. This practice can push up the price and cost you more to purchase the same virtual asset.
  • Conflicts of Interest: Many operators of virtual currency trading platforms are themselves heavily invested in virtual currencies, and trade on their own platforms without oversight. The financial interests of these operators may conflict with your interests. There have also been recent reports of large investors receiving favorable treatment, such as private cash-outs away from the market.
  • Limited Oversight: There are no federally regulated exchanges, like the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq, for virtual currencies. Virtual currency trading platforms operate from various places around the world, many of which are not easily accessible to American law enforcement. Many platforms are subject to little or no oversight. If you are the victim of fraud on one of these exchanges, you will likely have no recourse in the United States.  Further, many issuers of virtual currencies are not regulated and therefore are not subject to net capital requirements or examinations. Thus, people who lose money trading a certain virtual currency may have no recourse with respect to the issue of the currency.

Today’s investor alert continues Attorney General’s James efforts to regulate the cryptocurrency industry and protect New York investors. Earlier this year, Attorney General James issued a taxpayer notice to virtual currency investors and their tax advisors to accurately declare and pay taxes on their virtual investments. In October 2021, Attorney General James directed unregistered crypto lending platforms to cease operations for not fulfilling their legal obligations. In March 2021, Attorney General James warned New Yorkers of the risks of cryptocurrency investments and reminded investment platforms of their legal obligations.

Additionally, in 2018, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) released its “Virtual Markets Integrity Initiative” report, a more detailed overview of the virtual currency markets in New York and around the world. The report gives basic, but important information about how virtual currencies trade, and the risks investors face when they buy and sell, even on “legitimate” trading platforms.

If you are worried that you or someone you love has been a victim of investment fraud, contact OAG’s Investor Protection Bureau immediately. If you have worked in the virtual assets industry and believe you may have knowledge of wrongdoing, contact OAG’s Investor Protection Bureau immediately or the online whistleblower portal.

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