On July, 23, 2013, the SEC charged a Texas man and his company with defrauding investors in a Ponzi scheme involving Bitcoin, a virtual currency traded on online exchanges for conventional currencies like the U.S. dollar or used to purchase goods or services online. 

The SEC alleged that Trendon T. Shavers, who is the founder and operator of Bitcoin Savings and Trust (BTCST), offered and sold Bitcoin-denominated investments through the Internet using the monikers “Pirate” and “pirateat40.”  Shavers raised at least 700,000 Bitcoin in BTCST investments, which amounted to more than $4.5 million based on the average price of Bitcoin in 2011 and 2012 when the investments were offered and sold.  Today the value of 700,000 Bitcoin exceeds $60 million.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Shavers promised investors up to 7 percent weekly interest based on BTCST’s Bitcoin market arbitrage activity, which supposedly included selling to individuals who wished to buy Bitcoin “off the radar” in quick fashion or large quantities.  In reality, BTCST was a sham and a Ponzi scheme in which Shavers used Bitcoin from new investors to make purported interest payments and cover investor withdrawals on outstanding BTCST investments.  Shavers also diverted investors’ Bitcoin for day trading in his account on a Bitcoin currency exchange, and exchanged investors’ Bitcoin for U.S. dollars to pay his personal expenses.

The SEC alleged that Shavers sold BTCST investments over the Internet to investors in such states as Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.  Shavers posted general solicitations on a website dedicated to Bitcoin discussions, and he misled investors with such false assurances about his investment opportunity as “It’s growing, it’s growing!” and “I have yet to come close to taking a loss on any deal,” and “risk is almost 0.”  Contrary to the representations made to investors, BTCST was not in the business of buying and selling Bitcoin at all.

The SEC’s complaint charged Shavers and BTCST with offering and selling investments in violation of the anti-fraud and registration provisions of the securities laws, specifically Sections 5(a), 5(c) and 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Exchange Act Rule 10b-5.  The SEC is seeking a court order to freeze the assets of Shavers and BTCST in addition to other relief, including permanent injunctions, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains with prejudgment interest, and financial penalties.