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纽约时报:美国加密市场监管,层出不穷的挑战

全新的互联网金融模式国际资讯监管与政策

纽约时报:美国加密市场监管,层出不穷的挑战

暴富的诱惑让越来越多的投资者将目光投向了加密货币和ICO,也吸引了很多诈骗者。

非盈利机构反钓鱼工作组(Anti-Phishing Working Group)估计,自2017年年初以来,约有价值12亿美元的加密货币被盗。上周,美国证券交易委员会(SEC)获得了一项紧急法院命令,叫停Titanium 区块链基础设施服务公司进行的ICO。SEC称,该公司涉嫌诈骗约2100万美元。

监管机构对于非法不当行为非常关注,甚至还专门推出了一个虚假的ICO网站,发行HoweyCoins,以证明投资者非常容易受骗。其中Howey源自Howey Test,1946年最高法院案件中,法庭提出用Howey Test来判断是否为“证券”。

但是打击虚拟货币欺诈几乎已经成了监管机构和联邦检察官的“打地鼠游戏”,新的问题和挑战总是层出不穷。

监管困境

当局面临的挑战是,加密货币产业是一个新兴产业,所以它们不能很好地与数十年前通过的法律相对应,这些法规需要时间修订以发挥应有的作用。

彭博社报道说,联邦检察官正在与商品期货交易委员会(CFTC)合作,以确定交易商是否在操纵比特币、以太币和其他加密货币的价格。与欺诈计划或个人投资者遭窃不同,操纵市场这种行为触及了虚拟货币市场的核心。这意味着价格可能不会反映真正的价值,而是被那些追求利润的投资者人为地推高或压低。

SEC的管辖范围只包括用于帮助公司融资的投资,比特币基本不属于这一类。相反,该机构一直在关注利用ICO筹集资金的公司,其认为通过ICO募资与向投资者出售股票或债券是一样的,因此必须遵守复杂的证券注册规则。

CFTC可能在加密货币中的交易监管方面比较容易些。布鲁克林联邦地区法院法官Jack B. Weinstein在3月份做出的一项裁决认为,虚拟货币是在市场上以统一的质量和价值进行交换的“商品”,因此它们符合《商品交易法》中的定义。这意味着意图欺骗投资者或操纵商品价格的交易可能会受到民事和刑事起诉。

这是美国法院首次将加密货币认定为商品的裁决。其他法院是否会同意是尚未可知。被告肯定会对以违反商品法为由而遭受的指控提出质疑。他们很可能会争辩,认为虚拟货币是交换媒介,而不是像黄金或小麦这样的商品。

即使商品法适用,实际操纵起来也还是很困难。政府必须证明交易者意图人为地影响价格。曼哈顿联邦地区法院曾经解释说:“进入市场进行交易时知道这会扭曲市场市价不是操纵。意图而并非知识,才会将合法交易转化为操纵。”

证明被告试图推高(或压低)加密货币价格的另一项挑战是,与股票不同,加密货币不是在集中式的交易所进行交易的。仅仅是简单地收集交易信息对于试图证明操纵的检察官和监管机构来说也是一个挑战。而且,虚拟货币可以在地球上几乎任何地方进行交易,因此即使存在可疑订单,交易者也可能超出美国监管的职权范围。

尽管如此,联邦检察官仍拥有两项强大的武器,而这些武器对于SEC和CFTC这样的金融监管机构来说是不可用的:邮件和电信欺诈法规。这些法律涵盖欺诈和涉及贵重财产的欺诈计划,其中包括像比特币和以太币这样的无形资产。

主动迎接监管的Coinbase

虽然加密货币交易公司经常称自己为“交易所”,但它们并未在SEC或者CFTC注册,并且也没有提供像股票和商品交易中投资者获得的那种保护。如果政府认真对加密货币市场进行监测,则需要要求交易公司遵守交易法规,其中包括大量的交易记录保存条款。

也许考虑到未来监管加强的必然性,加密货币交易所Coinbase正在与SEC协商注册为经纪公司的事宜,以便它可以在遵守证券法的同时交易像比特币这样的资产。该公司可能会创建所谓的“替代交易系统”,用于购买和出售加密货币和代币。这样做会需要公司遵守资本和客户保护的要求,接受SEC和金融业监管局(Finra)的监管。 Coinbase的客户只能交易在SEC注册过的资产,以便未来让加密电子货币遵守联邦证券和商品法中注册和公开要求。

尽管成为经纪公司的代价很高,但Coinbase能以此作为营销点,告诉潜在客户他们在Coinbase上交易更安全。就像汽车公司一直在宣传它们的安全措施一样,经纪公司可以提供更好的客户保护,客户可能也愿意为此付费。

随着加密货币的价格剧烈波动,抱有恶意目的的企业激增,美国国会最终可能会指定一个机构来负责监管市场。

The lure of quick riches has attracted a growing number of investors to cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings. It has also drawn scam artists.

The nonprofit Anti-Phishing Working Group estimated that about $1.2 billion in cryptocurrencies has been stolen since early 2017. Just this week, the Securities and Exchange Commission obtained an emergency court order halting an initial coin offering by Titanium Blockchain Infrastructure Services that the agency claimed had defrauded investors out of about $21 million.

Regulators have become so concerned about misconduct that the S.E.C. even unveiled a fake website for an initial offering of HoweyCoins — a play on a 1946 Supreme Court case that gave a broad definition of what constitutes a “security” — to demonstrate just how easy it is for investors to be fooled into parting with their money.

But fighting fraud in virtual currencies has almost become a game of Whac-A-Mole for regulators and federal prosecutors, who find each new iteration seemingly a few steps ahead them.

The challenge the authorities face is that cryptocurrencies are so new that they do not fit neatly into laws that were passed decades ago prohibiting misconduct in the securities and commodities markets. It will take time for those regulations to catch up.

Bloomberg reported that federal prosecutors were working with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to determine whether traders are manipulating the price of Bitcoin, Ether and other cryptocurrencies. Unlike fraudulent schemes or theft from individual investors, this type of conduct cuts to the heart of the market for virtual currencies. It means that prices may not reflect any true value but instead are being driven up or down artificially by those seeking to profit.

The S.E.C.’s jurisdiction only covers investments used to help fund companies, and Bitcoin hardly fits that model. Instead, the agency has focused on companies using initial coin offerings to raise money, arguing that doing so is the same as selling stocks or bonds to investors, and therefore the complex securities registration rules must be followed.

The trading commission may have better luck policing transactions in cryptocurrencies. A decision in March by Judge Jack B. Weinstein of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn held that virtual currencies “are ‘goods’ exchanged in a market for a uniform quality and value,” so they come within the definition in the Commodity Exchange Act that covers “all other goods and articles.” That means trading designed to defraud investors or manipulate the price of a commodity is subject to civil and criminal prosecution.

The decision was the first designating cryptocurrencies as a commodity. Whether other courts will agree is an open question. Defendants are sure to challenge any charges based on violating the commodity laws. They would most likely argue that virtual currencies are a medium of exchange rather than a commodity like gold or wheat.

Even if the commodity laws apply, proving manipulation can be difficult. The government must show that the trader intended to artificially affect the price. The Federal District Court in Manhattan once explained that “entering into a legitimate transaction knowing that it will distort the market is not manipulation — only intent, not knowledge, can transform a legitimate transaction into manipulation.”

One challenge to proving a defendant tried to inflate (or deflate) the price of cryptocurrencies is that, unlike stocks, they are not traded on centralized exchanges. Even simply gathering information on trades may be a challenge for prosecutors and regulators trying to prove manipulation. Moreover, virtual currencies can be traded from just about anywhere on the planet, so even if there is a pattern of suspicious orders the perpetrators may be beyond the reach of federal authorities.

Still, federal prosecutors possess two powerful weapons that are not available to the financial regulators at the S.E.C. and C.F.T.C.: the mail and wire fraud statutes. These laws cover deception and schemes to defraud involving valuable property, including intangibles like Bitcoin and Ether.

Although cryptocurrency trading firms often call themselves “exchanges,” they are not registered with the S.E.C. or the C.F.T.C, and their clients have none of the protections afforded investors who trade stocks and commodities. If the government is serious about monitoring the markets for cryptocurrencies, it will need to require the trading firms to comply with the rules for exchanges, which include extensive record-keeping provisions.

Perhaps in a nod to the inevitability of greater regulation, Coinbase, a leading cryptocurrency trading venue, is in talks with the S.E.C. about registering as a brokerage firm so that it can trade assets like Bitcoin and other tokens while complying with the securities laws. The company could create what is called an “alternative trading system” for buying and selling cryptocurrencies and tokens. Doing so would subject the firm to extensive capital and customer protection requirements along with oversight by the S.E.C. and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or Finra. Coinbase clients could only trade assets that are properly registered with the S.E.C., another step toward treating cryptocurrencies as subject to the registration and disclosure requirements of the federal securities and commodity law.

Although becoming a broker would be costly, Coinbase could use that status as a marketing tool by telling potential customers that they will be much safer trading through its platform rather than unregulated firms that could see assets stolen or prices manipulated. Much like car companies tout their safety measures under rules they long fought, a broker can offer much greater client protection that customers may be willing to pay for.

As the value of cryptocurrencies swing wildly and those looking to abuse their investors proliferate, it may be up to Congress to finally designate an agency to be responsible for overseeing the markets. As I proposed in February, maybe it is time to create a Crypto-Cop to bring some order to the system and combat those looking for an opportunity to cheat and steal.


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