Binary Options: These All-Or-Nothing Options Are All-Too-Often Fraudulent
Trading binary options can be an extremely risky proposition. Unlike other types of options contracts, binary options are all-or-nothing propositions. When a binary option expires, it either makes a pre-specified amount of money, or nothing at all, in which case the investor loses his or her entire investment. Trading binary options is made even riskier by fraudulent schemes, many of which originate outside the United States.
Through its recently launched FINRA Securities Helpline for Seniors – HELPS®, FINRA has received a number of calls that suggest that scams involving binary options and their trading platforms abound. Callers report situations in which firms claiming to be binary options trading firms do not deposit investor funds into the investor's account, deny requests to return funds, or require a fee be paid in order to receive a return of their investment assets. In at least one situation, a fraudster posing as a regulatory organization accused the investor of engaging in illegal binary options trading and demanded payment of fine money. FINRA is also aware of instances in which an investor is contacted by a firm claiming to be able to get the investor's money back for an advance fee. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have received complaints about similar problems.
FINRA cautions investors who are considering binary options to be particularly wary of non-U.S. companies that offer binary options trading platforms. These include trading applications with names that often imply an easy path to riches, and demo accounts that allow users to try their hand at binary options trading without risking personal assets. Such accounts can serve as bait to lure investors into sending money to fund a "real" trading account, or open the door to identity theft, by requesting an array of personal information.
Investors who have already opened an account should be alert to signs of fraud. These include pressure to send additional money, and excuses for why the firm cannot credit gains to a customer's account, close an account or send purported gains to the investor.
Cautions from the SEC and CFTC
Both the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission have issued alerts related to binary options:
- CFTC Binary Options Fraud Advisory
- SEC Investor Alerts, Binary Options Websites May Be Used for Fraudulent Schemes and Binary Options and Fraud
In addition to explaining binary options, including how they differ from other types of options contracts, the alerts caution that:
- 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.
- If you purchase binary options offered by persons or entities that are not registered with or subject to the oversight of a U.S. regulator, you may not have "the full benefit of the safeguards of the federal securities and commodities laws that have been put in place to protect investors, as some safeguards and remedies are available only in the context of registered offerings."
Check, Check, Check
Before investing in binary options, take the following precautions:
- Check the CFTC's website to see if the binary options trading platform is a designated contract market—currently there are only three such markets offering binary options.
- Use the SEC's EDGAR system to check to see if the binary options trading platform has registered the offer and sale of the product with the SEC.
- Check the SEC's website regarding exchanges to determine if the binary options trading platform is registered as an exchange. Search registered trading platforms to determine whether or not a binary options product you may have heard about is listed.
- Use FINRA BrokerCheck® and the National Futures Association's Background Affiliation Status Information Center (BASIC) to check the registration status and background of any firm or financial professional that you are considering.
Unless you can verify the registration status of the trading platform, products, firms and financial professionals, do not trade with them, do not send any money, and do not provide your personal information.
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