NEW YORK, March 2 (Reuters) - Virtu Financial Inc on Friday distanced itself from a fake cryptocurrency called VirtCoin that falsely claims to be affiliated with the global trading firm, highlighting the potential risks associated with the digital currency craze.
Regulators around the world have been grappling with how to police digital currencies, which companies issue via "initial coin offerings" that are sold to investors in return for a crypto-currency like bitcoin or ether.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has a number of active investigations into companies that claim to be in the cryptocurrency space, but which are really just trying to steal people's money, Steven Peikin, co-director of the agency's enforcement division, said in September.
In January the SEC shut down an ICO that aimed to raise $1 billion, calling the operation "an outright scam."
Interest around digital currencies has surged in the past year, with the price of bitcoin hitting nearly $20,000 last December. Regulatory concerns helped take some steam out of the rally, and bitcoin was below $11,000 on of Friday. The buzz has brought a lot of retail investors into the market, with new ICOs popping up nearly every day.
On a website that at first glance looks similar to Virtu's, VirtCoin claims its digital currency was launched by Virtu and that Virtu's chief executive officer and its founder, along with several other executives, are part of VirtCoin's "support force." The pictures associated with the Virtu executives' names look nothing like the people they claim to represent.
There was no contact information on the VirtCoin website.
VirtCoin put out a news release on Thursday claiming that Virtu was about to launch a digital currency, listing Virtu's CEO as the contact person.
Virtu said on Friday the release was a fake.
"VirtCoin has no relationship, connection, or affiliation to Virtu Financial and its officers and directors," Virtu's head of investor relations, Andrew Smith, said in a statement.
Virtu said it had notified the authorities of the issue and that it would begin legal actions to defend itself from the attempt to infringe on its copyrights, trademarks and intellectual property.
A search on coinmarketcap.com, a website that lists cryptocurrency prices, revealed Virta Unique Coin, VirtualCoin, Virtacoin, Virtacoinplus, but no VirtCoin. (Reporting by John McCrank Editing by Matthew Lewis)