SEC charges 11 people over 'textbook' $300 million crypto Ponzi scheme

Smart contract platform Forsage is actually just a regular ol' pyramid scheme, according to the agency.

Chinnapong via Getty Images

It's a day of the week ending in the letter "y," which inevitably means there's news of another messy saga in the cryptocurrency world. The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged 11 people who allegedly set up and promoted Forsage, which it said was a crypto Ponzi scheme that pulled in over $300 million from retail investors.

The agency asserts that Forsage enabled millions of people to engage in transactions through smart contracts on the Ethereum, Tron, and Binance blockchains. It alleged that Forsage had essentially been operating as a pyramid scheme for over two years, wherein the main way for investors to make money was by luring other people into the scheme. “Fraudsters cannot circumvent the federal securities laws by focusing their schemes on smart contracts and blockchains," Carolyn Welshhans, acting chief of the SEC’s Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit, said in a statement.

"Forsage is a textbook pyramid and Ponzi scheme," the SEC's complaint reads. "It did not sell or purport to sell any actual, consumable product to bona fide retail customers during the relevant time period and had no apparent source of revenue other than funds received from investors."

Four of those charged are Forsage's founders, who were last known to be living in Russia, the Republic of Georgia and Indonesia. The SEC also charged three promoters based in the US, who the founders allegedly recruited to endorse Forsage on its website and social media. Several members of a group called Crypto Crusaders, a group that promoted the scheme, were charged with violating the registration and anti-fraud provisions of federal securities laws as well. Two defendants have agreed to settle the charges without admitting or denying the allegations.

As CNBC notes, Forsage's founders launched the platform in January 2020. Regulators in the Philippines and Montana tried to shut it down with cease-and-desist actions. The SEC alleged that the defendants continued to promote Forsage while denying claims made against the platform in YouTube videos.