Are Prop Firms Legal and How to Spot Scams

Written By
G. Dautovic
November 14,2023

Proprietary trading firms play a big part in the financial sector, as prop trading can represent more than 50% of the entire trading volume in certain sectors of the market.

The continuous questions surrounding the legality and legitimacy of prop firms in no small part come from the fact that proprietary trading is inherently a speculative and high-risk venture, along with the fact that the industry operates without some of the regulatory protections that are imposed on regular brokerages. 

The Legality of Prop Trading

After the financial crisis of 2008, the enactment of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act has instituted rigorous restrictions on proprietary trading by banks through the Volcker Rule, creating a robust legal framework within which prop firms must operate.  

Regulatory pillars like the SEC (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) and FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) now oversee prop firm operations, enforcing a number of compliance measures and ethical norms within the industry. 

These regulatory frameworks can however vary across different jurisdictions, leading to the fostering of skepticism and rising misconceptions about proprietary trading. 

Unethical practices like excessive and hidden fees, unfair trading conditions and evaluation challenges, as well as unrealistic profit-sharing arrangements further intensify distrust and skepticism in the sector.

Identifying Legitimate Prop Firms

To differentiate between legitimate and potentially fraudulent prop firms, it is crucial to consider several factors with utmost attention and diligence:

Regulation and Compliance

Verify the firm’s adherence to, and compliance with, established regulatory standards and relevant financial norms. Investigate whether the firm is registered with and regulated by the appropriate financial authorities in its operating jurisdiction. For example, if you want to engage in futures prop trading, the company of your choice must be registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and has to comply with its rules.

Transparency and Fees

Legitimate prop firms should willingly disclose relevant information and address any queries or concerns. Scrutinize the firm’s fee structure and profit-sharing arrangements meticulously. Legitimate firms maintain clear, reasonable, and transparent fee and profit-sharing structures without hidden charges.

Reputation and Due Diligence

Check out the firm’s standing and track record when it comes to customer satisfaction. A prop firm that has received accolades and has nurtured the trust and respect of its traders usually implies a higher level of reliability and trustworthiness.

Training and Support

Assess the quality, relevance, and comprehensiveness of the training and support provided to traders. Legitimate firms often invest in the continuous learning and development of their traders, offering educational resources, mentorship, and support. Evaluate the accessibility and responsiveness of the firm’s customer support staff.

Contract Terms and Conditions

Scrutinize every aspect of contractual terms meticulously, either yourself or through a financial advisor, paying close attention to any concealed clauses, fees, and the specifics of profit-sharing arrangements.

Prop Firm Red Flags to Look Out For

Some of the most obvious potential issues when it comes to scams in the prop trading world are:

  • Unrealistic Promises: Be wary of firms making unrealistic promises or guarantees of high profits with low risks. Trading inherently involves risks, and no legitimate firm can guarantee profits.
  • Exorbitant Fees: Make sure to stay away from prop firms that charge additional fees for training, evaluation or trading platform access, especially if their fee structures are unclear or confusing.
  • Lack of Communication: A lack of clear and open communication, unresponsiveness to inquiries, or reluctance to provide information are red flags indicating potential issues with the firm’s legitimacy.
  • Negative Reviews and Legal Issues: A significant number of negative reviews, unresolved complaints, or a history of legal or regulatory issues should raise concerns about the firm’s legitimacy and reliability.

Wrapping Up

Proprietary trading firms, despite operating within well-defined legal frameworks, are often misconstrued due to the speculative nature of prop trading and the existence of fraudulent entities in the sector.

While prop trading is subject to legal and regulatory oversight in many jurisdictions, the disparities in global regulatory landscapes can introduce risks.

This is why you, as a prospective trader, have to keep in mind these intricacies and only commit your time and hard-earned money to a firm’s program when you are sure that the only thing that can incur financial loss to you are your own bad trading choices.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are prop firms legit?


Prop trading is legal in numerous jurisdictions, but the legality and legitimacy of individual firms may vary.

Is proprietary trading legal in the US?


Yes, prop firms can operate legally in the US, subject to regulations by entities such as the SEC and FINRA.

Do prop firms actually pay out?


Prop firms do pay out the profits earned by the traders, but the fact is that only a small percentage of all traders pass the evaluation challenges and get the chance to trade with real funds.

About author

I have always thought of myself as a writer, but I began my career as a data operator with a large fintech firm. This position proved invaluable for learning how banks and other financial institutions operate. Daily correspondence with banking experts gave me insight into the systems and policies that power the economy. When I got the chance to translate my experience into words, I gladly joined the smart, enthusiastic Fortunly team.

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