SEC fines Russian firm for failing to disclose paid-for ICO reviews

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said on Tuesday that it has fined and settled charges against a Russia-based ratings firm for failure to disclose payments it received to publicize digital asset offerings of issuers it had rated.

The regulator said that ICO Rating had not admitted or denied the SEC’s charges but had agreed to pay a nearly $269,000 fine for the so-called “anti-touting” violations committed between December 2017 and July 2018.

The firm also agreed not to break those rules in the future, the SEC said.

ICO Rating did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The SEC has previously issued specific warnings about the promotion of cryptocurrency online fundraisers known as initial coin offerings (ICOs).

It is aiming to crack down on the array of ‘ICO agencies’ that offer crypto issuers active followers and posts on social media platforms such as Reddit and Bitcointalk. These can attract investors, given the lack of conventional financial information available on cryptocurrencies.

Some research houses accept payments in the cryptocurrencies they are analyzing and may give positive ratings for a price. Often the payments are not disclosed, a violation of securities law. Reuters reported on the phenomenon last year.

“The securities laws require promoters, including both people and entities, to disclose compensation they receive for touting investments so that potential investors are aware they are viewing a paid promotional item,” said Melissa Hodgman, a director in the SEC’s enforcement division.

“This requirement applies regardless of whether the securities being touted are issued using traditional certificates or on the blockchain.”

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