(Reuters) – U.S. regulators on Wednesday accused a Nevada company and two men involved with it of misappropriating over $6 million from customers seeking to buy a virtual currency called My Big Coin, the latest in a string of cases involving cryptocurrencies.
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed the lawsuit in federal court in Boston against My Big Coin Pay Inc; Randall Crater, its founder; and Mark Gillespie, who the agency said had solicited customers on the company’s behalf.
The CFTC alleged that the defendants sought to capitalize on the public’s increasing interest in virtual currencies by fraudulently offering sales of My Big Coin, a name similar to a widely-popular bitcoin.
They raised about $6 million from 28 customers with false and misleading claims about their virtual currency’s value and usage and touted it as backed by gold, the lawsuit alleged.
In reality, any monetary payouts to customers were done using funds obtained from other customers in what the CFTC said amounted to a Ponzi scheme. Funds were misused to pay for a home, antiques, fine art, jewelry and travel, the CFTC said.
The CFTC filed the lawsuit under seal on Jan. 16, the same day a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order freezing the defendants’ assets.
Adam Tracy, a lawyer for the company, said “the allegations contained in the CFTC’s complaint are just that, allegations, and I’ll be working with client in coming days to formulate a response to the complaint.”
The lawsuit came amid growing governmental action around the world against virtual currencies amid heightened fears globally over the risks that bitcoin and other virtual currencies may pose to investors and the global financial system.
CFTC Enforcement Director James McDonald in a statement on Tuesday said his agency is “actively policing the virtual currency markets.” The regulator last week announced two other lawsuits against virtual currency companies.
“We caution potential virtual currency customers, once again, that they should engage in appropriate diligence before purchasing virtual currencies,” McDonald said.
Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Tom Brown