LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's markets regulator is bringing quick-fire binary options under its remit in an effort to crack down on scams that have conned investors out of nearly 60 million pounds over the last five years, it said on Tuesday.
High-risk binary options allow people to place bets on whether the value of securities such as shares, commodities, indices and currencies will rise or fall over periods that can be as short as 30 seconds or five minutes.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said it would take over regulating firms that offer binary options, that can lure investors by advertising on social media under an illusion of respectability, from the Gambling Commission on Jan. 3.
The move comes after nearly 700 people reported losing a total of more than 18 million pounds on binary options scams in the first six months of this year, prompting police to raid 20 London offices last month as part of a broader crackdown on investment frauds.
The FCA warned investors that fraudsters were linking binary options adverts to websites that appear professional, promising higher-than-average returns for bets that are never placed, manipulating software to distort prices and payouts and often refusing to pay winnings before disappearing.
From next January, victims will be able to seek redress at the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, a safety net for investors in regulated businesses.
Countries such as Israel and Belgium have banned binary options trading, while the United States requires them to be traded on regulated markets.
The FCA also issued a warning to investors about the risks of putting money into speculative cryptocurrency contracts for differences (CFDs).
Cryptocurrency CFDs allow investors to speculate on a change in price of a virtual currency such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, which have proved volatile. The CFDs can have little price transparency, come with high charges and with leverage that can multiply losses.
The FCA said it did regulate CFDs, but warned such bets should only be placed by experienced investors with sophisticated knowledge of financial markets.
(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; Editing by Mark Potter)