Beware of Binary Options Mobile Apps

08/28/2017 3:01 am EST

Focus: COMMODITIES

Dan Rutherford

Director, Office of Customer Education and Outreac, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission

Binary options are legal yet most of the internet-based trading platforms that promote them are not registered in the United States to sell binary options. How to spot fraud, protect your investments and report illegal activity.


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(Sponsored content) Mobile apps make finance more convenient than ever. You can check your holdings, your daily earnings, or make a trade while waiting for a table at your favorite restaurant, all from the palm of your hand.

Unfortunately, anytime there is money involved there is the potential for fraud, and apps are no different. For example, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) recently spotted a number of binary option apps available in popular U.S. app stores that were by websites on the RED List.

We contacted the app stores and explained how the companies on the RED List were breaking the law. We also explained how binary options are commonly used in frauds, and the many complaints we’ve received. The stores were very cooperative, and appreciative. They don’t like it when apps harm customers either.

Unlike conventional options on futures contracts, which give buyers the choice to exercise a position in a commodity by a predetermined time at an established price, binary options offer a “win or lose” proposition based on whether or not a particular asset is above or below a set price at a set time and date.

Your payout is entirely dependent on the outcome of the proposition: Either you get paid a certain amount, or you get nothing.

Binary options are legal, but most of the internet-based trading platforms that promote them are not registered in the United States to sell binary options. It is illegal for entities to solicit, accept offers, offer to or enter into commodity options transactions (for example, foreign currencies, metals such as gold and silver, and agricultural products such as wheat or corn) with U.S. citizens unless those options transactions are conducted on:

  • A designated contract market
  • An exempt board of trade
  • A bona fide foreign board of trade
  • Are conducted with U.S. customers who have a net worth that exceeds $5 million.

Currently, there are only three designated contract markets registered with the CFTC to offer binary options in the United States: Cantor Exchange LP; Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Inc.; and the North American Derivatives Exchange, Inc. All other entities offering binary options that are commodity options transactions are doing so illegally.

Many of these firms operate offshore, where they may not be held to the same standards as U.S. firms. You’ll find a number of binary options platform operators on the CFTC’s RED List, a list of foreign entities that are not properly registered with the CFTC. We recently added more than 70 names to the list, and we’re continually investigating leads.

Watch out for fraud on your smartphone

The number of binary options online platforms operating illegally has surged in recent years, and so has the number of frauds associated with them. Allegations associated with fraudulent binary options trading platforms include refusing to credit customer accounts, denying fund reimbursement, committing identity theft and manipulating software to generate losing trades.

Now we’re seeing fraudulent operations expand from web platforms to apps on smartphones and other devices.

While apps located in the finance category of an app store look polished and professional and claim to be safe, reliable and secure apps, they carry the same risks as web platforms. Not only are some apps tied to platforms that are operating illegally, they may be designed to perpetrate outright fraud.

The fact that an app is available through a legitimate app store is not an endorsement of its compliance with CFTC regulations. The CFTC is working with app stores to identify and remove fraudulent binary options apps when we find bad actors.

You can help protect yourself and others. If you see a suspicious binary options app, report it. Red flags include:

  • Promises of quick, big profits with little or no risk
  • Claims of exclusive knowledge, information, or “signals”
  • Offers to match your investment with free money
  • Refusals to execute withdrawal requests or reply to customer questions.

Both the iTunes Store and Google Play will investigate reports of fraudulent apps. Before you try a binary options trading app, run a background check on the entity operating it and check the RED List. If you suspect a binary options app is operating illegally or perpetrating fraud, you can contact Apple support or contact Google Play support and contact the CFTC at consumers@cftc.gov.
To learn more about how binary options work and common fraud tactics, read the CFTC binary options fraud advisory.

This article is provided for general informational purposes only and does not provide legal or investment advice to any individual or entity. Please consult with your own legal advisor before taking any action based on this information. This article was prepared for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s SmartCheck program.  

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