The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Whistleblower Program offers monetary incentives and protections to individuals who report violations of commodities laws and regulations. Established under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, the program plays a critical role in detecting and prosecuting misconduct in the futures, options, and swaps markets.

Since its inception, the CFTC Whistleblower Program has awarded over $130 million to whistleblowers whose information led to successful enforcement actions. The program provides a powerful incentive for insiders to expose wrongdoing and hold commodity traders accountable.

This comprehensive guide examines how the CFTC Whistleblower Program works, its history and impact, eligibility requirements, protections for whistleblowers, award amounts, and tips for submitting a successful claim.

An Introduction to the CFTC Whistleblower Program

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is the federal agency tasked with regulating the derivatives markets, including futures, options, and swaps. Under the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA), the CFTC aims to foster open, transparent, competitive, and financially sound markets free from fraud and manipulation.

To detect and prosecute violations of the CEA and CFTC regulations, the agency relies heavily on whistleblowers – individuals who voluntarily provide the CFTC with original information about misconduct. Incentivizing whistleblowing is vital because the complexities of trading make misconduct difficult for regulators to identify independently.

To encourage whistleblowing, the CFTC Whistleblower Program provides monetary awards to eligible individuals whose original information leads to a successful enforcement action. The program also offers confidentiality and anti-retaliation protections for whistleblowers.

Since the CFTC Whistleblower Program’s inception in 2010, whistleblower tips have enabled the CFTC to recover over $1 billion in sanctions and bring landmark manipulation cases against traders at major banks like Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and UBS.

The program allows the CFTC to detect, investigate, and prosecute a broad range of violations including:

  • Manipulation: Trading that artificially affects market prices, such as spoofing and cornering the market.
  • Insider trading: Trading on material nonpublic information in breach of a duty.
  • Trade practice violations: Breaking rules around registering as an intermediary, disclosing risk, and segregating customer funds.
  • Fraud: Making false statements to customers about products or profit potential.
  • Reporting violations: Failing to submit required notices, reports, statements, and filings.
  • Wash trading: Trading that gives the artificial appearance of market activity.
  • Disruptive trading: Trading intended to improperly influence prices.
  • Registration violations: Operating without proper registration or after having one’s registration revoked or suspended.
  • Supervision failures: Failing to diligently supervise subordinates subject to registration.

Given the complexity of these markets, insider whistleblowers are often best positioned to detect misconduct early before significant harm occurs. By incentivizing insiders to expose wrongdoing, the CFTC Whistleblower Program helps protect market integrity and customers from fraud.

History and Impact of the CFTC Whistleblower Program

Congress established the CFTC Whistleblower Program in July 2010 under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Dodd-Frank aimed to strengthen regulation of the financial system after the 2008 financial crisis exposed weaknesses in oversight, particularly in the under-regulated derivatives markets.

To bolster CFTC enforcement capabilities, Dodd-Frank created a whistleblower program modeled after the highly successful SEC Whistleblower Program established earlier that month.

The CFTC Whistleblower Program became effective in August 2011 after the CFTC issued final rules establishing procedures, eligibility criteria, award amounts, and protections.

In the decade-plus since, the program has proven enormously successful in detecting commodity futures manipulation, insider trading, reporting violations, and other misconduct:

  • Over $130 million in whistleblower awards have been issued to date.
  • Whistleblower tips enabled the CFTC to recover over $1 billion in sanctions from 2011 to 2018 alone.
  • Notable cases cracked with whistleblower assistance include:
  • Spoofing prosecution: CFTC’s first anti-spoofing case against Panther Energy Trading LLC and owner Michael Coscia in 2013.
  • LIBOR manipulation: Joint CFTC-DOJ case against Deutsche Bank, UBS, and HSBC traders for manipulating the LIBOR benchmark interest rate from 2005 to 2011.
  • Wash trading: 2015 case against New York trading firm Cumberland Investment Corp for wash trading to generate exchange trading fees.
  • “Flash crash” manipulation prosecution: CFTC case against Navinder Sarao whose aggressive E-mini futures spoofing contributed to the 2010 “flash crash.”
  • ICO registration violation: 2017 charges against token issuer Coin Drop Markets for selling digital assets illegally as commodity options.

The program empowers the CFTC to take on complex cases like large-scale market manipulation that regulators likely could not detect or prove without insider information.

While the CEA historically banned insider trading, the CFTC lacked tools to incentivize insiders to expose it. The whistleblower program now enables the CFTC to overcome the inherent secrecy around insider trading and other misconduct.

Whistleblower Eligibility and Award Criteria

The CFTC Whistleblower Program offers sizable awards to eligible tipsters who provide valuable original information that leads to an enforcement action. However, to qualify for an award, whistleblowers must meet certain criteria.

Whistleblower Eligibility

Virtually any individual with original information can be a CFTC whistleblower. Eligible whistleblowers include:

  • Employees at all levels of a company
  • Consultants and contractors
  • Industry experts like accountants and analysts
  • Clients and customers
  • Competitors
  • Investors

The CFTC will accept anonymous whistleblower tips. However, whistleblowers will need to disclose their identity eventually to qualify for an award.

Ineligible whistleblowers include:

  • CFTC and other government employees whose information arose during official duties
  • Company attorneys and others prevented from disclosing information by attorney-client privilege
  • Foreign government officials
  • Anyone with a pre-existing legal or contractual duty to report information to the CFTC, such as compliance officers, auditors, and outside counsel
  • Anyone who obtained information illegally like by hacking

In summary, most individuals with independent knowledge of CFTC-related misconduct can become whistleblowers. But certain privileged, duty-bound, and illegitimate sources of information make one ineligible.

Original Information

Whistleblower tips must consist of “original information” not already known to the CFTC.

“Original information” encompasses new details the CFTC can use to open an investigation or expand an ongoing case. This includes everything from firsthand observations of misconduct to material evidence like incriminating documents or recordings.

However, “original information” excludes things like:

  • Rumors with no concrete supporting evidence
  • Speculation
  • Widely-reported news stories on a violation already under investigation
  • Information provided prior to Dodd-Frank unless related to an existing case

While secondhand information may sometimes be useful, the CFTC incentivizes whistleblowers with truly original details that substantively advance enforcement. Whistleblowers do not necessarily need “smoking gun” evidence, but they should provide specific credible information not previously known or disclosed.

Leading to a Successful Enforcement

To qualify for an award, an eligible whistleblower’s original information must lead to a “successful enforcement action” resulting in sanctions exceeding $1 million.

A whistleblower’s information can be deemed to have led to a successful enforcement in several circumstances:

  • Opening a new investigation: If the information causes the CFTC to open a new examination, investigation, or enforcement action that results in a qualifying monetary sanction.
  • Reopening a closed investigation: If the CFTC reopens a previously closed investigation based on the new information and reaches a successful conclusion.
  • Prompting an enforcement expansion: If the information significantly contributes to the expansion or success of an ongoing CFTC investigation or action.

So in summary, whistleblower tips must directly initiate or advance an investigation that ultimately cracks down on serious violations. Reporting inconsequential infractions or providing redundant details on existing cases will not qualify one for an award.

Whistleblower Protections and Confidentiality

Beyond monetary incentives, the CFTC Whistleblower Program provides crucial confidentiality assurances and protections against employer retaliation. These guard against the risks associated with blowing the whistle internally or externally.

Whistleblower Anonymity

CFTC whistleblowers can submit anonymous tips through an attorney and communicate anonymously throughout the claim process.

The CFTC will keep a whistleblower’s identity confidential to the fullest extent possible by law and regulate access to their information using secure and encrypted channels.

However, to collect an award, a whistleblower will eventually need to file a claim disclosing their identity and information in confidence to CFTC staff. The whistleblower’s identity also may become known during an investigation or related proceeding.

While the CFTC cannot guarantee perfect anonymity forever, they take precautions to conceal a whistleblower’s identity to avoid retaliation for as long as possible.

Protections Against Retaliation

In addition to confidentiality measures, several legal provisions protect CFTC whistleblowers from employer retaliation:

  • Employment protections: It is illegal under the CEA for employers to discharge, demote, suspend, threaten or harass, directly or indirectly retaliate against, or discriminate against a CFTC whistleblower.
  • Monetary relief: If an employer does retaliate illegally, a whistleblower can sue for reinstatement, back pay, and other monetary compensation in federal court or labor tribunals.
  • Confidentiality of disclosures: Whistleblower disclosures to compliance personnel are protected as privileged and confidential to prevent employers discovering the source.
  • Protection against other retaliation: Courts can issue restraining orders against harassment, reputational attacks, referrals for criminal prosecution, and other retaliatory acts.

CFTC whistleblowers gain powerful legal ammunition to hold employers accountable for any direct or indirect vengeful actions. However, these protections do not shield whistleblowers from unrelated legitimate employment actions or discovered wrongdoing.

Whistleblower Award Amounts

Eligible CFTC whistleblowers can obtain mandatory awards worth 10-30% of the fines and sanctions collected based on their contribution. Larger awards go to tipsters who provide information leading to bigger cases or assist more extensively with investigations.

While awards represent only a fraction of total penalties, they can still equate to immense sums given the scale of CFTC sanctions.

For example, the CFTC issued its largest award to date in September 2020, granting approximately $50 million to joint whistleblowers in two JPMorgan spoofing cases resulting in combined fines over $920 million.

The CFTC has full discretion on award amounts within the 10-30% range prescribed below:

  • 10%-30% award if penalties exceed $1 million: Standard reward for eligible whistleblowers whose information prompts a successful case.
  • Less than 10%: Reserved for whistleblowers who provided limited help to an existing investigation.
  • More than 30%: Rare except for small cases where the whistleblower extensively participated or risked retaliation.

Beyond percentage-based awards tied to penalties, additional compensation is available if an employer retaliates illegally. Whistleblowers can obtain double back pay plus legal expenses.

While awards represent a fraction of total sanctions, the sheer scale of CFTC fines against financial institutions means rewards frequently reach eight or nine figures. Even 10% of a $100 million penalty is life-changing.

Claiming an Award: Tips and Process

With lucrative awards available, many insiders with knowledge of commodity futures violations consider blowing the whistle. Here is how to submit a credible claim and maximize your chances of a payout:

1. Document and Collect Evidence

Before submitting a tip, whistleblowers should gather documentation and other evidence to support their allegations.

Powerful forms of evidence include:

  • Written communications like emails, IM logs, and memos
  • Voice recordings
  • Transaction data
  • Photographic evidence
  • Eyewitness accounts
  • Physical evidence like falsified books or records

While not strictly required, concrete evidence lends credibility and makes tips more actionable for CFTC investigators.

2. Report Anonymously Through Counsel

Whistleblowers can submit tips anonymously by retaining an attorney to report allegations to the CFTC Whistleblower Office on their behalf.

This helps avoid tipping off the whistleblower’s employer through an accidental disclosure. An attorney also assists with navigating the program’s complex rules and procedures.

Reputable whistleblower law firms have attorneys well-versed in CFTC regulations who will protect a client’s identity throughout the claims process.

3. Complete and Certify a Form TCR

Before the CFTC will review a tip, whistleblowers or their counsel must complete a “Form TCR” detailing the suspected violation.

Form TCR requires whistleblowers to:

  • Describe the nature of the misconduct
  • Explain how they obtained the information
  • Identify key parties, dates, locations, and transactions
  • Estimate the misconduct’s value
  • Disclose if they have taken other actions based on the information
  • Swear the information is true to the whistleblower’s knowledge

The CFTC uploads successfully completed TCRs to its confidential database for assessment.

4. Participate in the Investigation

After submitting Form TCR, the whistleblower or counsel should make themselves available to the CFTC investigative team by:

  • Providing additional documentation and context
  • Helping decode complex transactions
  • Making introductions to other knowledgeable insiders
  • Serving as an expert witness if necessary

Assisting extensively with an investigation strengthens a whistleblower’s claim to a larger award percentage.

However, whistleblowers are not obligated to do more than submit the initial Form TCR. The CFTC prefers voluntary participation but will not disadvantage less involved tipsters.

5. File a Claim for Award

If an investigation sparked by a whistleblower’s information leads to a successful enforcement action, the whistleblower must proactively file a “Claim for Award” to obtain their reward.

This formal claim requires disclosing confidential details to CFTC staff including:

  • The whistleblower’s identity and background
  • Their role and relationship to the company
  • The facts initially reported
  • Any additional help provided
  • Evidence supporting their contributions

The CFTC will evaluate whistleblower claims for eligibility and percentage based on these confidential filings. Larger awards go to those who more extensively assisted investigations leading to large sanctions.

Hiring a Whistleblower Attorney

Given the CFTC Whistleblower Program’s complexity, whistleblowers greatly enhance their odds by retaining an experienced attorney to represent their interests.

When seeking counsel, key attorney credentials to look for include:

  • Deep familiarity with CFTC regulations and enforcement
  • Prior experience representing CFTC whistleblowers
  • Strong track record with other regulatory whistleblower programs like the SEC
  • Resources to thoroughly document and submit your claim
  • Ability to ensure anonymity during reporting
  • Expertise navigating confidentiality requirements
  • Understanding of anti-retaliation protections
  • Success obtaining favorable whistleblower awards

Maximizing Award Eligibility and Amount

Whistleblowers can maximize their potential payout by:

  • Gathering extensive irrefutable evidence before submitting a tip
  • Organizing documentation and information clearly for investigators
  • Assisting extensively with the examination and providing ongoing cooperation
  • Highlighting the significance of the whistleblower’s contributions in award claims
  • Securing experienced whistleblower counsel to strategically position the claim

While award outcomes vary based on enforcement results, thoughtful preparation and participation puts whistleblowers in the best position for a sizable reward commensurate with their contributions.


In just over a decade, the CFTC Whistleblower Program has rapidly transformed the agency’s enforcement capabilities and recovered over $1 billion in sanctions. Empowered by insider tips, the CFTC is prosecuting complex manipulation, fraud, and misconduct that likely would go undetected otherwise.

Sizable monetary incentives encourage commodity futures industry insiders to expose wrongdoing early before it significantly harms markets or customers. Robust confidentiality protections and anti-retaliation measures allow whistleblowers to report unethical activity without fear.

While trading organizations are complex and misconduct can be difficult to spot, employees on the frontlines often witness red flags firsthand. By submitting detailed credible tips to the CFTC, industry insiders can earn life-changing whistleblower awards while helping restore market integrity.