The Securities and Exchange Commission received 12,322 whistleblower tips in fiscal year 2022 — the most ever and a slight increase from 2021, according to its annual report to Congress.
The rise in inbound tips, especially in the last two years, shows that the program’s enhanced confidentiality protections are “incentivizing whistleblowers to make the often difficult decision to come forward with information about potential securities-law violations,” said Nicole Creola Kelly, chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower (OWB).
The most common complaints against companies and individuals involved manipulation, offering fraud, initial coin offerings/cryptocurrencies, corporate disclosures and financials, and insider trading, in that order. The breakdown was similar to last year’s.
But allegations of cryptocurrency fraud continue to grow, from 289 in 2019, to 369 in 2020, 762 in 2021, and 1,718 in 2022. The SEC’s division of enforcement said in May 2022 that it had added 20 positions to its Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit.
“This asset class is rife with fraud, scams, and abuse in certain applications,” SEC Chief Gary Gensler told a conference audience in 2021.
As far as actual payouts to whistleblowers, the SEC bestowed $229 million in 103 awards to whistleblowers, second only to the previous year’s 108 awards totaling $564 million. Only a fraction of tips results in actual cases.
Among the noteworthy claims in 2022 was a compliance officer who qualified for an award because they reported the misconduct internally and waited at least 120 days before reporting it to the SEC. (Compliance personnel are normally not eligible.)
The SEC also granted an award to a company outsider whose independent analysis of a company’s publicly available information revealed allegations “that were not previously known to enforcement staff,” according to the SEC.
Whistleblower claims since 2011 have resulted in orders for more than $6.3 billion in monetary sanctions.
Since 2014, the SEC has averaged 72 enforcement actions per year. Total monetary settlements per year have been between $1.2 billion and $2.8 billion.
Whistleblower awards can range from 10% to 30% of the money collected when the monetary sanctions in a case exceed $1 million. The whistleblower program’s fund is financed by the penalties paid to the SEC by securities law violators.