Articles Tagged with Bitcoin

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The CFTC’s recent enforcement against Bitfinex’s financed trading activities demonstrates the Commission’s increasing interest in virtual currency and digital assets.

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is further expanding its oversight of virtual currency exchanges and digital assets in general. On June 2, 2016, Bitfinex (a Hong Kong-based bitcoin and cryptocurrency exchange) settled with the CFTC following an investigation into its trading activities. The CFTC charged that the exchange offered illegal off-exchange financed retail commodity transactions, and that Bitfinex had failed to register as a Futures Commission Merchant (FCM) as required by law. As a result, Bitfinex will pay $75,000 in civil penalties.

This action is more evidence of the CFTC’s interest in not only bitcoins, but any digital asset that can be considered a commodity. Transactions in decentralized digital tokens (such as Ether, DAO Tokens, Safecoins, Factoids, and Bitcrystals) are becoming more common, and so is regulatory interest.

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On December 1, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged GAW Miners, LLC (“GAW Miners”), ZenMiner, LLC (“ZenMiner”) and Homero Joshua Garza (“Garza”) the managing member of both GAW Miners and ZenMiner (together the, “Defendants”) with fraud under (i) Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) and (ii) Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”). The Defendants were also charged with engaging in the offer and sale of unregistered securities under Sections 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act for selling $20 million worth of shares in their virtual currency digital mining contract called a “Hashlet”.

The charges stem from the Defendants’ operation as a virtual currency “miner” which uses computing power to be the first to solve complex algorithms. The first virtual currency miner to solve a complex algorithm that confirms a transaction is rewarded with newly-issued bitcoins by the bitcoin protocol.

While virtual currency mining is not illegal, the SEC found:

  • Hashlets were touted as always profitable and never obsolete and had more than 10,000 investor purchases.
  • The Hashlet contract purportedly entitled the investor to control a share of computing power that GAW Miners claimed to own and operate while Hashlets were depicted in marketing materials as a physical product or piece of mining hardware.
  • GAW Miners directed little or no computing power toward any mining activity and misled investors to believe they would share in returns.
  • Garza and his companies owed investors a daily return that was larger than the actual return they were making on their limited mining operations because they sold far more computing power than they owned.
  • Investors were paid back gradually over time with “returns” out of funds collected from other investors.

The Press release is available HERE.

A full copy of the SEC order is available HERE.

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On March 10, 2015, the New Jersey Division of Taxation issued Technical Advisory Memorandum TAM-2015-1, explaining its policy regarding convertible virtual currency.1

  1. The IRS has held that convertible virtual currency (CVC), such as Bitcoin, is treated as property for U.S. federal income tax purposes. Consequently, transactions involving CVC are treated as barter transactions. In general, each party in a barter transaction is viewed as both a buyer (of the goods or services acquired) and a seller (of the goods or services given in exchange). See our client alert of March 26, 2014. New Jersey conforms to the federal treatment of CVC for corporate and personal income tax purposes, including wage withholding and reporting of payments to independent contractors.

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Now that enforcement agencies have determined that digital currencies are more than a passing fad, they are establishing more permanent efforts focused on the novel legal issues digital currencies present. The SEC’s formation of its multi-office Digital Currency Working Group may foreshadow an increase in the agency’s exercise of regulatory authority over entities offering interests in Bitcoin and other digital currencies.

Businesses that transact in digital currencies or cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and Litecoin, should be aware of the SEC’s increased focus on these transactions.

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