Developers, businesses, and individuals increasingly are using initial coin offerings, also called ICOs or token sales, to raise capital. These activities may provide fair and lawful investment opportunities. However, new technologies and financial products, such as those associated with ICOs, can be used improperly to entice investors with the promise of high returns in a new investment space. The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy is issuing this Investor Bulletin to make investors aware of potential risks of participating in ICOs.
Background – Initial Coin Offerings
Virtual coins or tokens are created and disseminated using distributed ledger or blockchain technology. Recently promoters have been selling virtual coins or tokens in ICOs. Purchasers may use fiat currency (e.g., U.S. dollars) or virtual currencies to buy these virtual coins or tokens. Promoters may tell purchasers that the capital raised from the sales will be used to fund development of a digital platform, software, or other projects and that the virtual tokens or coins may be used to access the platform, use the software, or otherwise participate in the project. Some promoters and initial sellers may lead buyers of the virtual coins or tokens to expect a return on their investment or to participate in a share of the returns provided by the project. After they are issued, the virtual coins or tokens may be resold to others in a secondary market on virtual currency exchanges or other platforms.
Depending on the facts and circumstances of each individual ICO, the virtual coins or tokens that are offered or sold may be securities. If they are securities, the offer and sale of these virtual coins or tokens in an ICO are subject to the federal securities laws.