As the booming market surrounding the digital currency bitcoins continues to surge, the SEC has stepped in to stop a startup that wanted to raise funding by selling digital tokens.

The food review site planned what’s known as an initial coin offering, an arrangement that is drawing increased scrutiny from the feds.


Munchee, based in San Francisco, was trying to raise $15 million to improve its app, but the SEC said that would have been similar to issuing securities without properly registering with regulators.

Munchee did not immediately respond to an email from CNNMoney.

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According to the SEC, the company was trying to create what it called an ecosystem — a marketplace where it could pay users in tokens for writing food reviews and sell advertising to restaurants.

The company told investors that they could expect the tokens to increase in value, and the company said it would help create a secondary market for the tokens, the SEC said.

The SEC said it would not seek a penalty against Munchee because the company shut down the coin offering quickly and returned the proceeds to investors without issuing tokens.

The company still had references to the offering on its website Monday, including a link to its “new decentralized block-chain based food review and social platform.” But the links led to error pages.

Bitcoin rage continues

On Wall Street, the price of the first-ever futures contract for the digital currency jumping 20 percent.

It’s a step forward for the bitcoin, which has soared this year despite concerns that the surge of investor interest has transformed it from a new-age currency into just the latest speculative bubble.

One prominent securities regulator warned that people were now taking out second mortgages on their homes to buy bitcoin.

The January contract for bitcoin futures closed at $18,545 on the Cboe Futures Exchange. Trading began Sunday and the price rose as high as $18,850, according to data from the Cboe.

The bitcoin futures first day of trading was not entirely smooth. The Cboe’s website crashed several times or slowed down, due to a surge of interest. The exchange halted trading twice on the first day to stem volatility. The exchange operator has rules in place to stop trading after price swings of 10 percent.

The Cboe said at least 20 trading firms “actively participated” in the first day of trading, without giving specifics. Volume of the bitcoin futures was relatively low, trading less than 4,000 contracts compared with the tens of thousands that typically trade for more popular commodities like oil, gold, or wheat, or the hundreds of thousands of contracts for popular stock-based futures like the S&P 500.

The Cboe futures don’t involve actual bitcoin. They allow investors to make bets on the future direction of bitcoin. Monday’s futures price indicates investors expect bitcoin to keep rising in the coming weeks, although at a slower pace than seen recently. The futures price was about 8 percent higher than the price of $17,100 quoted for bitcoin on the large private exchange CoinBase late Monday afternoon.

But with the surge of interest has come concerns about the bitcoin market being in a bubble. In an interview on business network CNBC, North American Securities Administrators Association President Joseph Borg said he observed some people taking out mortgages on their house to buy bitcoin.