Citing a rising number of complaints from its citizens, Belgium’s Financial Services and Markets Authority (FSMA) has decided to completely ban binary options companies from operating in the country. Belgium’s financial regulator is also outlawing the offering of leveraged forex and CFD trading to ordinary citizens.
Belgium is the first European country to outlaw the offering of binary options to its citizens, and only the third country in the world to do so, after the United States (which permits binary options trading only on domestic, regulated exchanges) and Israel. The ban became law on August 8 and will go into effect on August 18.
“The regulation applies to derivative contracts distributed to consumers in Belgium, usually from abroad, via electronic trading platforms,” the FSMA said in a press release. “According to the providers, these are products that can generate high yields at a time of historically low interest rates. In reality, however, these are products that are marketed aggressively and are extremely risky, often involving transactions over a very short period and without any connection to the real economy.”
A spokesman for the FSMA told The Times of Israel that all binary options firms, including those regulated in Cyprus, will be banned from operating in the country. Companies that offer leveraged forex and CFD trading will also be banned from approaching Belgians. The FSMA is not banning all forex and CFD trading but rather the kind with leverage, such as contracts for difference (CFDs) and rolling spot forex contracts.
“The companies offering CFDs and forex address it to all kinds of people, senior citizens and unemployed people who can’t afford to lose their money. When there’s leverage, people can lose a lot of money,” the spokesman said. (Leverage, offered by many retail forex companies, means that if a trader puts down $100, they can buy 100 times that, or $10,000, of a kind of fictional money for the purposes of the trade. If the dollar, say, goes down by one percent, even for a fraction of a second, the trader can lose all their money. The company sells their position at a loss and closes it. On the other hand, if the dollar goes up by 1 percent, the trader can double his money. However, statistics being what they are, a highly leveraged client will often be wiped out quickly.)
Too many complaints
A spokesman for the FSMA told the Times of Israel that the decision, unprecedented in Europe, to bar overseas binary options firms from approaching its 11 million citizens, came about after the Belgian regulator received a growing number of complaints from Belgians regarding binary options and forex companies. In 2014, it received 169 complaints, in 2015 the number increased to 244 and in the first half of 2016 it received 129 complaints.
So far, Belgians who have come forward have lost approximately 6 million euros to binary options and forex fraud, the spokesman said, while stressing this figure is probably the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s a very small percentage of the amount people in Belgium have lost.”
In neighboring France, where the population is six times as large, police have said losses to French citizens from binary options and forex scams exceed 4 billion euros.
France recently announced it plans to ban all electronic advertising, including online, television and radio, of binary options and forex products. It has not yet taken the step of banning them entirely.
Explaining the new ban, Belgium’s Minister of Finance, Johan Van Overtveldt, said in a statement: “In recent years, we have seen a rise in the number of foreign offerers of products such as binary options that approach the Belgian market without having an authorization and /or a published prospectus. This regulation will help combat such offers.”
Asked how the Belgian government plans to enforce the ban, in light of the fact that the US government banned non-exchange binary options several years ago and yet many companies continue to solicit American citizens, the FSMA spokesman said the regulator would employ administrative sanctions, and cited a case last week where the FSMA reached a settlement with Cyprus-regulated investment firm Rodeler Limited, which owns the brand 24Option.
Rodeler offered to settle with the FSMA for the amount of euro 140,000 for offering binary options, CFDs and forex unlawfully to Belgian citizens. In addition, Rodeler is required to make contact with all of its Belgian customers to offer them the possibility to terminate their contracts and be reimbursed their current account balance. Owned by Israelis, Rodeler calls clients from its call center in Israel under the company name Betamedia.
The Israeli connection
While the FSMA did not wish to speak on the record about the Israeli connection to binary options and forex fraud at this stage, Shmuel Hauser, Chairman of the Israel Securities Authority, told The Times of Israel in an interview last week that the ISA has been approached by the Belgian regulatory authorities in the past year about binary options firms operating from Israeli territory.
The Times of Israel has in recent months been detailing massive fraud by Israeli binary options firms, beginning in March with an article entitled “The Wolves of Tel Aviv.” The fraudulent firms purport to be guiding their customers in making lucrative short-term investments, but are in fact using various ruses, including allegedly manipulating rigged trading platforms, to simply steal their clients’ money. There are more than 200 brands operating from Israel, employing thousands of Israelis, defrauding customers out of an estimated billions of dollars per year. While local binary options firms have now been banned by the Israel Securities Authority from targeting Israelis, they are still free to target people abroad.
In the past year, the FSMA has issued warnings about other binary options companies that operate from Israel, including CentralOption, PWRTrade, Tradesolid, and RBoptions.
Asked how victims of binary options fraud can get their money back without falling prey to fraudulent “loss recovery” firms that scam them a second time, the Belgian spokesman said, “We have no legal jurisdiction to help victims recover their losses, but they can file a complaint with police in Belgium. We also refer victims to Cysec and the financial ombudsman in Cyprus.”