Binary Options is a Scam

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Binary Options Fraud

A Word of Warning to the Investing Public

Stock options. It’s a pretty common investment term meaning, in general, that one party sells or offers to another party the opportunity to invest by buying a particular stock at an agreed upon price within a certain period of time. All perfectly legal and highly regulated—and if the investor takes advantage of the opportunity and the stock performs well, there’s money to be made. And if the stock doesn’t perform well, the investor knew the risk.

But here’s another similar-sounding financial term that the public should be wary of—binary options. While some binary options are listed on registered exchanges or traded on a designated contract market and are subject to oversight by U.S. regulators like the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), much of the binary options market operates through websites that don’t comply with U.S. regulations. And many of those unregulated websites are being used by criminals outside the U.S. as vehicles to commit fraud.

Binary options fraud is a growing problem and one that the FBI currently has in its crosshairs. In 2020, our Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received four complaints—with reported losses of just more than $20,000—from binary options fraud victims. Fast forward five years, and the IC3 received hundreds of complaints with millions of dollars in reported losses during 2020. And those numbers only reflect victims who reported being fleeced to the IC3—the true extent of the fraud, which has victims around the world, isn’t fully known. Some European countries have reported that binary options fraud complaints now constitute 25 percent of all the fraud complaints received.

What exactly is a binary option? It’s a type of options contract in which the payout depends entirely on the outcome of a yes/no proposition, typically related to whether the price of a particular asset—like a stock or a commodity—will rise above or fall below a specified amount. Unlike regular stock options, with binary options you’re not being given the opportunity to actually buy a stock or a commodity—you’re just betting on whether its price will be above or below a certain amount by a certain time of the day.

For example: You expect the price of an individual stock will be above $80 at 3:30 p.m. today. So you buy a binary option that allows you to place this bet at a cost of $60. If, at 3:30 p.m., the stock price is $80.01, your payout is $100, for a profit of $40. If the price of the stock at 3:30 is $79.99, you lose your $60. Of course, you can buy multiple binary options, which can significantly increase your winnings as well as your losses.

So where does the fraud come into it? The perpetrators behind many of the binary options websites, primarily criminals located overseas, are only interested in one thing—taking your money. Complaints about their activities generally fall into one of three categories:

The perpetrators behind many of the binary options websites, primarily criminals located overseas, are only interested in one thing—taking your money.

  • Refusal to credit customer accounts or reimburse funds to customers. This is usually done by cancelling customers’ withdrawal requests, ignoring customer phone calls and e-mails, and sometimes even freezing accounts and accusing the customers themselves of fraud.
  • Identity theft. Representatives of binary options websites may falsely claim that the government requires photocopies of your credit card, passport, driver’s license, utility bills, or other personal data. This information could potentially be used to steal your identity.
  • Manipulation of trading software. Some of these Internet trading platforms may be reconfiguring the algorithms they use in order to purposely generate losing trades, often by distorting prices and payouts. For example, if a customer has a winning trade, the expiration time is extended until the trade becomes a loss.

Fraudulent binary options website operators go to great lengths to recruit investors. They advertise their platforms—often on social networking sites, various trading websites, message boards, and spam e-mail—with big promises of easy money, low risk, and superior customer service. Potential investors are also cold-called from boiler room operations, where high-pressure salespeople use banks of phones to make as many calls as possible to offer “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunities.

What’s being done to combat binary options fraud? The FBI currently has a number of ongoing binary options fraud cases, working with partners like the CFTC and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). And this past January, the Bureau organized the 2020 Binary Options Fraud Summit held at Europol in The Hague, bringing together law enforcement and regulators from throughout North America and Europe to discuss the growing binary options fraud problem.

Special Agent Milan Kosanovich, who works out of our Criminal Investigative Division’s Complex Financial Crimes Unit, was one of the FBI’s representatives at this gathering. “The summit,” he said, “gave all of us the chance to sit down and talk about what we’ve discovered through our respective binary options fraud investigations, where the challenges are, and how we can all work together.”

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One of the biggest challenges law enforcement faces, according to Kosanovich, is the fact that the scammers are sophisticated and have operations spanning multiple countries. “So the key to addressing this type of fraud,” he continued, “is national and international coordination between regulatory agencies, law enforcement, and the financial industry.”

Another important factor, said Kosanovich, is investor awareness and education. “Investors need to be aware of the significant potential for fraud on binary options websites, and they need to make sure they do their due diligence before ever placing that first trade or bet.”

What Can You Do to Avoid Being Victimized

  • Make sure that the binary options trading platform you’re interested in has registered its offer and sale of its products with the SEC. (Registration provides investors with key information about the terms of the products being offered). To do this, you can use the Security Exchange Commission’s (SEC) EDGAR Company Filing website.
  • Check to see if the trading platform itself is registered as an exchange at the SEC’s Exchanges website.
  • Ensure that the trading platform is a designated contract market by checking the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (CTFC) Designated Contract Markets website. Thousands of entities promote binary options trading in the U.S., but only two are currently authorized to do so by the CFTC.
  • Check out the registration status and background of any firm or financial professional you are considering dealing with. You can do this through the Financial Industry Regulatory Agency’s BrokerCheck website and the National Futures Association Background Affiliation Status Information Center.
  • Take a look at the CFTC’s RED List, which contains the names of unregistered foreign entities that CFTC has reason to believe are soliciting and accepting funds from U.S. residents at a retail level for, among other things, binary options.
  • Finally, don’t invest in something you don’t understand. If you can’t explain the investment opportunity in a few words and in an understandable way, you may need to reconsider the potential investment.

Source: Investor.gov (SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy/CFTC’s Office of Consumer Outreach)

Resources

Five Chinese Military Hackers Charged with Cyber Espionage Against U.S.

Marking the first time criminal charges have been filed against known state actors for hacking, five men were indicted for offenses directed at the U.S. nuclear power, metals, and solar products industries.

FBI Director Addresses Cyber Security Gathering

James Comey discussed the current cyber threat landscape, the FBI’s efforts to stay ahead of the threat, and the importance of strong private sector partnerships at the Boston Conference on Cyber Security.

Binary Options is a Scam ?

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Much of the binary options market operates through Internet-based trading platforms that are not necessarily complying with applicable U.S. regulatory requirements and may be engaging in illegal activity. Investors should be aware of fraudulent promotion schemes involving binary options and binary options trading platforms.

What is a Binary Option?

A binary option is a type of options contract in which the payout depends entirely on the outcome of a yes/no proposition and typically relates to whether the price of a particular asset will rise above or fall below a specified amount. Once the option is acquired, there is no further decision for the holder to make regarding the exercise of the binary option because binary options exercise automatically. Unlike other types of options, a binary option does not give the holder the right to buy or sell the specified asset. When the binary option expires, the option holder receives either a pre-determined amount of cash or nothing at all.

Investor Complaints Relating To Fraudulent Binary Options Trading Platforms

The SEC has received numerous complaints of fraud associated with websites that offer an opportunity to buy or trade binary options through Internet-based trading platforms. The complaints fall into at least three categories:

  1. Refusal to credit customer accounts or reimburse funds to customers

These complaints typically involve customers who have deposited money into their binary options trading account and who are then encouraged by “brokers” over the telephone to deposit additional funds into the customer account. When customers later attempt to withdraw their original deposit or the return they have been promised, the trading platforms allegedly cancel customers’ withdrawal requests, refuse to credit their accounts, or ignore their telephone calls and emails.

  1. Identity theft

These complaints allege that certain Internet-based binary options trading platforms may be collecting customer information (including copies of customers’ credit cards, passports, and driver’s licenses) for unspecified uses. Do not provide personal data.

  1. Manipulation of software to generate losing trades

These complaints allege that the Internet-based binary options trading platforms manipulate the trading software to distort binary options prices and payouts. For example, when a customer’s trade is “winning,” the countdown to expiration is extended arbitrarily until the trade becomes a loss.

Beware of Overstated Investment Returns for Binary Options

Additionally, some binary options Internet-based trading platforms may overstate the average return on investment by advertising a higher average return on investment than a customer should expect, given the payout structure.

For example, a customer may be asked to pay $50 for a binary option contract that promises a 50% return if the stock price of XYZ company is above $5 per share when the option expires. Assuming a 50/50 chance of winning, the payout structure has been designed in such a way that the expected return on investment is actually negative, resulting in a net loss to the customer. This is because the consequence if the option expires out of the money (approximately a 100% loss) significantly outweighs the payout if the option expires in the money (approximately a 50% gain). In this example, an investor could expect — on average — to lose money.

Always Check the Background of a Firm or Financial Professional

Before investing, check out the background, including registration or license status, of any firm or financial professional you are considering dealing with through the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure (IAPD) database, available on Investor.gov, and the National Futures Association Background Affiliation Status Information Center’s BASIC Search. If you cannot verify that they are registered, don’t trade with them, don’t give them any money, and don’t share your personal information with them.

Additional Information

The Office of Investor Education and Advocacy has provided this information as a service to investors. It is neither a legal interpretation nor a statement of SEC policy. If you have questions concerning the meaning or application of a particular law or rule, please consult with an attorney who specializes in securities law.

SCAM WATCH

Don’t be lured into binary options scams

Scamwatch is warning investors to beware of binary trading scams that lure you in with the opportunity to make money through asset price movement. So far this year Australians have lost $3 million to these scammers.

Binary options involve predicting the movements of commodity, asset or index prices over a short time. Although they may be a legitimate financial product with many licenced firms trading in them, binary options are speculative, high risk products that are almost impossible to predict, even for professionals. There are groups of scammers who use binary options to steal your money.

These scammers use high-pressure sales tactics to try and convince you to invest in a trading account, making claims that the system is simple and high profits are guaranteed. If you agree, they direct you to a website with a login, account details and the trading platform. They put your money into the account and demonstrate a number of successful trades to encourage you to invest greater sums of money.

Once invested in the scheme, victims have reported that their money begins to disappear quickly. When they try to withdraw from the scheme, they find it impossible to get their money out of the account. The scammer does everything they can to keep the victim in the program but inevitably they stop taking the victim’s calls and, after a short period of time, it is common for the firms to disappear.

If you receive a phone call or see an online ad offering binary trading be very cautious. Do your research on the offer and the company. Don’t agree to anything straight away.

How these scams work

  • You receive a call out of the blue offering a secure investment with fast, high returns. You might also come across these scammers through social media or online ads.
  • The scammers have professional looking websites to help them appear legitimate, usually with a login process, personalised account details and a trading platform.
  • The victim invests money into the account and either the victim or an agent attempts to guess whether a particular commodity price will go up or down over short intervals.
  • If you guess correctly, the account is credited with a small return. If you guess incorrectly, you lose the entire amount placed. The odds are stacked against you so it is very likely that you will lose over time.
  • When you attempt to withdraw money, you find it almost impossible to do so and often lose the entire investment.
  • Binary option scammers will also ask for personal information, claiming they need it to transfer money or that it is required for anti-money laundering purposes. Providing this information can leave you open to identity theft.

Protect yourself

  • Consider any approach for investment offers carefully, especially if they are over the phone. Be suspicious of investment opportunities that promise a high return with little or no risk.
  • Check ASIC’s list of companies you should not deal with. If the company that called you is on the list – don’t deal with them. However, if they do not appear on the list it doesn’t mean they are legitimate.
  • Check ASIC’s professional registers to make sure the provider has an Australian Financial Services (AFS) License or is authorised by an AFS Licensee.
  • Don’t let anyone pressure you into making decisions about money or investments – get independent legal or financial advice.
  • Carefully consider who you are giving personal information to, such as details from your passport or bank account, as this could be later used for identity theft.
  • If you are looking to invest in binary options your best bet is to just say no and look for a safer, less risky investment.

Report

You can report scams to the ACCC via the Scamwatch Report a scam page.

More information

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s MoneySmart website has information on binary options.

Stay one step ahead of scammers, follow @Scamwatch_gov.

Best Binary Options Brokers 2020:
  • Binarium
    Binarium

    Best Binary Options Broker 2020!
    Good Choice for Beginners!
    Free Trading Education, Free Demo Account!
    Get a Sign-Up Bonus Now!

  • Binomo
    Binomo

    2nd in our ranking!

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