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The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged a Texas man with running a Ponzi scheme in which he raised “at least” 700,000 Bitcoin, worth $4.5 million at the time and more than $60 million today.

This charge is the culmination of the SEC’s first investigation into Bitcoin fraud.

Trendon T. Shavers promised “investors” a seven percent weekly interest rate, the SEC says, in order to entice their investments in the “Bitcoin Savings and Trust” bank, which was supposed to engage in Bitcoin market arbitrage — making money of the rising and falling of the value of the virtual currency.

BitCoinInstead, Bitcoin Savings and Trust was a sham and Shavers used Bitcoin from new investors to pay old investors, a classic Ponzi strategy.

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“Fraudsters are not beyond the reach of the SEC just because they use Bitcoin or another virtual currency to mislead investors and violate the federal securities laws,” Andrew M. Calamari, Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office, said in a statement.  “Shavers preyed on investors in an online forum by claiming his investments carried no risk and huge profits for them while his true intentions were rooted in nothing more than personal greed.”

Shavers allegedly told his investors that “risk is almost zero,” and that he had yet to “come close to a loss on any deal.” In reality, he was losing money from day trading Bitcoin, and funneling cash from new investors to earlier buyers.

In addition, the SEC says, Shavers used investors’ money in his own personal account — at least 150,649 Bitcoin, or over $13 million U.S. dollars. That money went to pay his rent, utilities, car payments … and his gambling expenses.

As always, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

“Ponzi scheme operators often claim to have a tie to a new and emerging technology as a lure to potential victims,” said Lori J. Schock, Director of the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy.  “Investors should understand that regardless of the type of investment, a promise of high returns with little or no risk is a classic warning sign of fraud.”

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