SEC sets up fake initial coin offering site to show what scams look like

Securities and Exchange Commission Building

HoweyCoins.com looks like a legitimate website letting investors get in on a digital-coin offering at a discounted rate if they act quickly.

There's a website out there touting a hot initial coin offering, and it happens to be bogus.

So who created it? The Securities and Exchange Commission.

HoweyCoins.com, set up to mimic other too-good-to-be-true coin offerings that have surged during the rise of bitcoin and other digital currencies, is a bogus site intended to help investors recognize investment scams.

The site details how investors can get in on the offer, which purportedly combines blockchain technology and travel. It even says HoweyCoins are registered with the U.S. government and will trade on an SEC-compliant exchange.

The site also includes aspects that regulators view as common enticements to fraudulent offerings, such as a complex white paper, promises of guaranteed returns and a countdown clock showing how long you have left to get in on the deal.

When investors click on "Buy coins now" they are taken to an SEC site explaining they were about to be duped.

"We embrace new technologies, but we also want investors to see what fraud looks like, so we built this educational site with many of the classic warning signs of fraud," said SEC Chairman Jay Clayton in a public statement.

The SEC has brought a number of fraud cases against operators of initial coin offerings. In total, the agency alleges $600 million has been raised in fraudulent schemes.

"Remember, too, fraud is underreported," said Lori Schock, director of the SEC's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy. "State securities regulators also bring cases, and international regulators get involved when it involves [an entity] based overseas."

The best-known digital coin, bitcoin, has enjoyed a meteoric rise in value since its introduction in 2009. After hitting a high of $19,343 in December, the price for one bitcoin has zigzagged its way downward to about $8,300 as of Wednesday.

It's also a volatile investment. Over the last week alone, the price has ranged from a high of $9,371 to a low of $8,128.

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