Articles Tagged with Bitcoin

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing clients who’ve suffered losses from advisors who sold clients cryptocurrencies that have lost value and investors who have lost funds due to identity theft, fraud, and hacking involving their crypto-currency accounts.  One of the biggest stories in finance, has been the epic crash of cryptocurrencies, which were pitched as profitable alternatives to cash, stocks, and bonds. “Cryptos” were sold as sure-fire hedges against inflation, but as inflation continued to rise, digital currencies kept heading south in a big way.

Worse yet, the overselling of cryptos has been tied to $1 billion losses in outright scams involving more than 46,000 people, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). As with most swindles, investors were enticed with the promise of quick wealth with no risk. The “Crypto Crash” goes beyond the perils of high inflation and supply chain issues, though. Many observers believe the promise of crypto wealth is actually a Ponzi scheme that’s not linked to any underlying legitimate investment and is fueled by a stream of new investors being duped by the illusion of instant wealth.

The decline in some cryptos has been devastating. According to Robert Reich in The Guardian: “TerraUSD, a `stablecoin,” – a system that was supposed to perform a lot like a conventional bank account, but was backed only by a cryptocurrency called Luna – collapsed, losing 97% of its value in just 24 hours, apparently destroying some investors’ life savings.”

Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. represents investors who have lost cryptocurrency as a result of hacks and theft from their accounts.  In December 2021, a security breach at crypto-exchange BitMart resulted in customers losing more than $200 million in cryptocurrency.  What is newsworthy, is that since May 2022, the Federal Trade Commission has been investigating BitMart in connection with this hacking incident.  According to court filings, the FTC is evaluating 1) whether BitMart engaged in deceptive, unfair, or otherwise unlawful acts or practices regarding the marketing and representations made by BitMart to its clients about account security, in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. Section 45; and 2) violations of Gramm Leach Bliley Act, 15 U.S.C. Sections 6801-27, which is a federal law that, amongst other things, requires financial institutions to protect the private information of its customers.

This investigation is significant because it is reportedly the first time the FTC has investigated the crypto-exchange market. Surely, the ten-fold increase in crypto-related hacks and identity thefts from 2020-2021, has drawn the attention of the FTC, which investigates scams and identity thefts on behalf of consumers. Also significant is the possible application of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act to crypto-currency exchanges.  Since their inception, exchanges like Coinbase, Voyager, and Gemini, to name a few, have heavily lobbied Washington to stay out of their business.  These exchanges are profit centers for their owners and shareholders and they do not need layers of consumer protection regulations to crimp their style. Recently, as hacking, identity theft incidents, and bankruptcies rock the crypto-exchange world, whispers of CFTC and SEC regulations are becoming calls for action.

Crypto-Exchanges argue consistently that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are not securities – because if they are, then the purchase, sale, and exchange of Bitcoin will have to be handled like any securities transaction offered through a brokerage firm. What’s the big deal?  Securities Exchange registration would require companies like Coinbase to spend exponentially more money on compliance, surveillance, and supervision of accounts to ensure record keeping, and security, as opposed to taking all that money they generate in transaction fees, and allowing their founder to buy the most expensive real estate in Los Angeles County.  Notwithstanding all of the representations about account security and how crypto-exchanges prioritize account security, their resistance to registering as securities brokers/dealers should tell consumers all they need to know about how they prioritize consumer protections over profit.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices is representing investors who’ve suffered losses from firms that have not protected crypto assets. In this cyber age, some of the biggest thefts don’t involve masked robbers and guns. They happen online as thieves are increasingly stealing digital currencies and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), which are valuable digital images. In the first quarter of this year alone, cyberthieves have robbed some $1.3 billion in hacking events, according to Atlas VPN.

How do thieves pull off these heists? They break into so-called online “digital wallets,” or online exchanges where investors store cyber currencies like Bitcoin. Unlike bank vaults with thick steel doors, these virtual storerooms can be accessed any number of ways through the internet. Third parties act as repositories for the currencies and include:

  • The Ethereum ecosystem was hacked 18 times, resulting in a loss of almost $636 million.

Stoltmann Law Offices is a Chicago-based securities, investment fraud, and class action law firm offering representing to defrauded investors and victims of fraud nationwide on a contingency fee basis.  We have been closely monitoring allegations that IRA Financial Trust account owners had over $36 million in crypto-currency stolen from their IRAs through a hack of their system on or around February 8, 2022. IRA Financial partners with Gemini Trust Co. to offer the opportunity for its self-directed retirement account clients to invest in cryptocurrency. IRA Financial represents on its website that “Our Trust company’s focus on compliance and security is based on three principles: State regulated, Industry-leading technology, and FDIC protection of cash up to $250,000 through Capital One.” The company goes on the admit that it “must meet the capitalization, compliance, anti-money laundering, consumer protection, and cybersecurity requirements set forth by the South Dakota Division of Banking, and protect the interests of our customers first and foremost.” In specifically representing their stringent “Infrastructure Security”, IRA Financial Trust represents that:

  • We leverage the content-security policy (CSP) and HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) features found in modern browsers.
  • We partner with enterprise vendors to mitigate distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

Stoltmann Law Offices is a Chicago-based securities and investor rights law firm dedicated to a nationwide practice to recover money lost by investors as a result of the misconduct of financial advisors and their brokerage and investment firms. We have prosecuted at least one hundred cases over the years against Morgan Stanley and were not surprised to learn about David Todd Levine and his being barred by FINRA, the State of Colorado, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. These bars were “by consent” meaning none of the allegations made against Mr. Levine were proven. It just means instead of fighting them, Mr. Levine will instead never be able to legally provide investment advice to anyone for the rest of his life.

According to an Order Instituting Administrative Proceedings (OIP) filed by the SEC, which parroted claims made by the Colorado Securities Commissioner, Mr. Levine recommended that clients invest in a Bitcoin investment being run by his brother. In so doing, Mr. Levine allegedly failed to disclose that his brother was a fugitive from the law in the United States, living abroad. The Commission further alleged that Mr. Levine failed to disclose this criminal history to any of his clients and further failed to verify the legitimacy and ownership of the Bitcoin that was apparently part of this investment scheme. The SEC also alleged that Mr. Levine failed to develop a method for ensuring the transfer of funds and Bitcoin, which allowed his brother to steal $1.5 million. Levine also allegedly failed to disclose the high risk nature of this investment scheme.  If you are a victim of Mr. Levine’s alleged Bitcoin scam, and you were a client of his and Morgan Stanley, you could have a viable claim to pursue against Morgan Stanley.

Although it is alleged that Levine failed to disclose this investment and his involvement in it to Morgan Stanley, that does not automatically release Morgan Stanley from potential liability.  Whether Morgan Stanley can be found liable by FINRA arbitrators depends on two issues regardless of disclosure by Levine.  1) Were there sufficient red flags that Levine was soliciting his clients to invest in this Bitcoin investment so has to put Morgan Stanley on constructive notice of it? 2) Were clients reasonable to believe that Levine was acting within the course and scope of his employment with Morgan Stanley in recommending an investment in a Bitcoin related deal? Typically, advisors leave enough of a paper trail behind them that reasonable supervision and compliance should discovery this sort of outside activity. Levine was offering it to Morgan Stanley clients after all, so a few phone calls by Morgan Stanley and they would have uncovered what was happening. Moreover, investors would certainly be reasonable in assuming what Levine was doing was legitimate and was through or at least tacitly approved by Morgan Stanley.  This “apparent agency” issue could make Morgan Stanley liable for your losses. Courts agree. See McGraw v. Wachovia Securities, 856 F. Supp. 2d 1053 (N.D. Iowa 2010).

AdobeStock_50775754-2-300x200The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) obtained a court order halting an allegedly fraudulent initial coin offering (ICO) that targeted retail investors to fund what claimed to be the world’s first “decentralized bank.” The complaint was filed in federal district court in Dallas, Texas on January 25th and was unsealed yesterday. AriseBank and its co-founders Jared Rice Sr. and Stanley Ford allegedly offered and sold unregistered investments in their AriseCoin cryptocurrency by depicting the bank as a decentralized bank offering a variety of products and services using more than 700 virtual currencies. The bank, based out of Dallas, also claimed it developed an algorithmic trading application that automatically trades in various cryptocurrencies. The complaint alleged that AriseBank falsely stated that it purchased an FDIC-insured bank which enabled it to offer customers FDIC-insured accounts and that it offered them VISA cards to spend on the 700 cryptocurrencies. AriseBank also allegedly failed to disclose the criminal background of its executives. The court has since approved an emergency asset freeze over AriseBank, Rice and Ford, and appointed a receiver over AriseBank, including its digital assets.

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