Regulators in the United States have imposed fines of $2.5 billion on the cryptocurrency industry since Bitcoin’s founding.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is responsible for issuing a majority of these fines according to analysis from Elliptic. Their penalties amounted to $1.69 billion. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CTFC) came in second with fines amounting to $624 million. Most companies incurred these penalties by offering unregistered securities or defrauding investors.
The influence of penalties
The majority of the penalties were paid last year, when Telegram settled SEC charges for violating federal securities laws. As part of the settlement, Telegram agreed to return more than $1.2 billion to investors. They also paid an additional $18.5 million civil penalty. Ultimately, Telegram neither admitted to nor denied any wrongdoing.
While the CFTC has emerged as a major force imposing fines as well, local regulators are also flexing. For instance, earlier this year Tether (USDT) and crypto exchange Bitfinex reached a settlement with the New York State Attorney General. The agreement required Tether and Bitfinex to cease trading activity with New Yorkers, and pay $18.5 million in penalties.
Co-founder of Elliptic Tom Robinson notes that these fines are playing a role in helping to shape crypto regulation. He highlights the use of existing laws to limit and penalize illicit use of crypto assets, which can set precedents. “These penalties have not slowed down the crypto industry – in fact, they have helped it to grow,” Robinson said. “They provide comfort to consumers, and regulatory clarity to businesses.”
Meanwhile, Robinson expects regulators to target overseas exchanges. For instance, the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Justice recently issued probes investigating Binance. The world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange has also come into the crosshairs of European regulators for its stock tokens.
Robinson also emphasized how ransomware attacks are also honing regulators’ capacities to investigate exchanges. As ransoms paid out to cybercriminals are often cashed out at these exchanges, they leave an immutable digital paper trail. For example, $2.3 million was recently recovered from the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack.