On December 8, the Securities and Exchange Commission sanctioned a computer programmer for operating two online exchanges that traded securities using virtual currencies without registering them as broker-dealers or stock exchanges. The programmer, Ethan Burnside, operated the two exchanges through his company, BTC Trading Corp., from August 2012 to October 2013. Account holders were able to purchase securities in virtual currency businesses using bitcoins on BTC Virtual Stock Exchange and using litecoins on LTC-Global Virtual Stock Exchange. The exchanges were not registered as broker-dealers but solicited the public to open accounts and trade securities. The exchanges also were not registered as stock exchanges but enlisted issuers to offer securities to the public for purchase and sale. Burnside also offered shares in LTC-Global Virtual Stock Exchange itself, as well as interests in a separate Litecoin mining venture, LTC-Mining, in exchange for virtual currencies. The SEC charged Burnside with willful violations of Sections 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Burnside and BTC Trading Corp. with willful violations of Sections 5 and 15(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Burnside cooperated with the SEC’s investigation and settled, paying more than $68,000 in profits plus interest and a penalty. The SEC also barred Burnside from the securities industry.
The action may indicate that the SEC is taking a closer look at decentralized platforms for trading virtual currency using cryptocurrency technology, but the SEC has neither confirmed nor denied such speculation. In recent months, the SEC has reportedly sent voluntary information requests to companies and online “crypto-equity exchanges” offering equity and related interests denominated in virtual currency and websites offering digital tokens for programming platforms. A discussion of the SEC’s voluntary information sweep is available here.