Can You Get Money for Whistleblowing?
The U.S. government has several whistleblower-reward programs that provide financial awards to whistleblowers for exposing certain types of wrongdoing. Under the programs, a whistleblower may receive up to 30% of the collected monetary sanctions if their tip leads to a successful enforcement action. This article focuses on two of the main whistleblower-reward programs, which were created under the Dodd-Frank Act: the SEC Whistleblower Program and the CFTC Whistleblower Program.
We have substantial experience representing whistleblowers before the SEC. In conjunction with our courageous clients, we have helped the CFTC curb market manipulation schemes and helped the SEC halt multi-million dollar investment schemes and return funds to defrauded investors.
If you have original information that you would like to report to the SEC Whistleblower Office, contact the Director of our SEC whistleblower practice at [email protected] or call our leading SEC whistleblower lawyers at (202) 930-5901 or (202) 262-8959. All inquiries are confidential.
SEC Whistleblower Program
The SEC Whistleblower Program provides monetary rewards to whistleblowers who help the SEC identify fraud and other federal securities laws violations. To be eligible for an award under the program, whistleblowers must voluntarily provide the SEC with original information that leads to successful enforcement actions with total monetary sanctions totaling more than $1 million. A whistleblower may receive an award of between 10% and 30% of the total monetary sanctions collected. Since 2012, the SEC has awarded more than $1.2 billion to whistleblowers.
The SEC Whistleblower Program also protects the confidentiality of whistleblowers and does not disclose information that might directly or indirectly reveal a whistleblower’s identity. Whistleblowers can even submit a tip anonymously to the SEC if represented by an attorney in connection with their tip.
Who is an “eligible” whistleblower under the program?
Most individuals, regardless of citizenship, are eligible whistleblowers if they voluntarily provide the SEC with original information about a possible violation of the federal securities laws that has occurred, is ongoing, or is about to occur. If certain exceptions apply, even compliance personnel, including internal auditors, external auditors, officers, and directors, may be eligible for SEC whistleblower awards. Furthermore, in certain circumstances, even culpable whistleblowers may be eligible for awards.
How does the SEC determine the amount of an award?
In determining the amount of an award between 10% and 30% of the total monetary sanctions collected, the SEC considers certain factors that may increase or decrease the amount of an award. For example, the SEC may increase the percentage of an award based on several positive factors, including the significance of the information provided by the whistleblower and the extent of assistance the whistleblower and their attorney provided to the SEC’s investigation. The SEC may also reduce percentage of an award based on negative factors, such as the whistleblower’s culpability in the wrongdoing or unreasonable delay in reporting to the SEC.
Whistleblowers should consider these factors prior to submitting tips to the SEC Office of the Whistleblower. For additional information on how to increase the likelihood of recovering and maximizing an SEC whistleblower award, see our article 5 Tips for SEC Whistleblowers and Lessons Learned from SEC Whistleblower Awards.
What are the largest SEC whistleblower awards to date?
Since the inception of the SEC Whistleblower Program, whistleblower tips have enabled the SEC to order more than $3.5 billion in monetary sanctions against wrongdoers. The table below identifies some of the largest SEC whistleblower awards that the SEC has issued:
|Whistleblower Award||Date||Basis for Whistleblower Award|
|$114 million||October 22, 2020||On October 22, 2020, the SEC announced its largest-ever whistleblower award of $114 million to a whistleblower whose information and "substantial, ongoing assistance" led to the successful enforcement of SEC and related actions. The award consisted of an approximately $52 million award in connection with the SEC case and an approximately $62 million award arising out of the related actions by another agency.|
|$110 million||September 15, 2021||On September 15, 2021, the SEC announced its second-largest whistleblower award of $110 million. According to the press release announcing the award, the award consists of an approximately $40 million award in connection with an SEC case and an approximately $70 million award arising out of related actions by another agency. With the award, the SEC Whistleblower Program has now paid more than $1 billion in awards to whistleblowers.|
|$50 million||April 15, 2021||On April 15, 2021, the SEC announced a $50 million award to joint whistleblowers. The press release announcing the award stated, "The joint whistleblowers provided exemplary assistance to the SEC staff during the investigation, including meeting with staff numerous times and providing voluminous detailed documents. The information provided by these individuals resulted in the return of tens of millions of dollars to harmed investors."|
|$50 million||June 4, 2020||On June 4, 2020, the SEC announced its then largest-ever whistleblower award of $50 million to a whistleblower. In the press release announcing the award, the Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, Jane Norberg, stated: "This award is the largest individual whistleblower award announced by the SEC since the inception of the program, and brings the total awarded to whistleblowers by the SEC to over $500 million, including over $100 million in this fiscal year alone. Whistleblowers have proven to be a critical tool in the enforcement arsenal to combat fraud and protect investors."|
|$50 and $33 million||March 19, 2018||On March 19, 2018, the SEC announced an award of $50 million to two whistleblowers and an award of $33 million to another whistleblower. See the SEC's order determining the whistleblowers' award claims here.|
|$39 and $15 million||September 6, 2018||On September 6, 2018, the SEC announced its second-largest SEC whistleblower award to date of $39 million. According to the SEC's Press Release, the whistleblowers provided critical information and continued assistance that helped the SEC bring an important enforcement action.|
|$37 and $13 million||March 26, 2019||On March 26, 2019, the SEC announced its third-highest SEC whistleblower award to date of $37 million. Another whistleblower received a $13 million award in the same action, totaling $50 million in awards to the two whistleblowers.|
|$36 million||September 24, 2021||The Securities and Exchange Commission announced an award of approximately $36 million to a whistleblower "whose information and assistance significantly contributed to the success of an SEC enforcement action as well as actions by another federal agency."
According to the SEC's press release announcing the award, "the whistleblower provided crucial information on an illegal scheme to the SEC's and the other agency's staffs, which included multiple meetings and the identification of key documents and witnesses. Under the SEC's whistleblower program, individuals who provide critical information to other agencies may be eligible for a related action award if they are also eligible for an award in the underlying SEC action."
|$30 million||September 22, 2014||A foreign whistleblower came to the SEC with “information about an ongoing fraud that would have been very difficult to detect.”
This award underscores that non-US citizens are eligible whistleblowers in the SEC Whistleblower Program.
|$28 million||May 19, 2021||On May 19, 2021, the SEC announced an award to a whistleblower totaling more than $28 million in connection with an SEC enforcement action and a related action by another federal agency. The whistleblower’s information caused both the SEC and the other agency to open investigations that resulted in significant enforcement actions.|
|$28 million||November 3, 2020||The SEC issued a $28 million award to a whistleblower who "provided significant information that aided the SEC in bringing a successful enforcement action." According to the press release announcing the award, the whistleblower "internally reported information that prompted the company to initiate an internal investigation, and saved the staff time and resources by providing testimony and identifying a key witness."
|$27 million||May 17, 2021||The SEC awarded almost $27 million to two whistleblowers who provided SEC staff with "new information and assistance during an existing investigation, including meeting with the staff in person on multiple days." According to the SEC's press release, the whistleblowers' "information and cooperation helped the Commission bring the enforcement action, which resulted in the return of millions of dollars to harmed investors."|
|$27 million||April 16, 2020||The SEC issued a $27 million award to a whistleblower who alerted the agency to misconduct occurring, in part, overseas. After providing the tip to the SEC, the whistleblower provided critical investigative leads that advanced the investigation and saved significant SEC resources. For more information, click here.|
|$23 million||June 2, 2021||The SEC issued two awards of approximately $13 million and $10 million to two whistleblowers whose information and assistance led to successful SEC and related actions. According to the SEC's press release: "The whistleblowers’ information and assistance led to multiple successful enforcement actions related to a complex and fraudulent scheme involving multiple individuals and tens of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains.”|
|$22 million||May 10, 2021||On May 20, 2021, the SEC issued awards totaling $22 million to two whistleblowers whose information and assistance were of "crucial importance to successful SEC enforcement actions brought against a financial services firm." According to the SEC's press release: "The first whistleblower received an award of $18 million, while the second whistleblower received a $4 million award [because] the first whistleblower was the initial source of the investigation while the second whistleblower submitted information much later after the investigation was already underway."|
|$22 million||September 30, 2021||The SEC issued an award of almost $30 million to two insider whistleblowers whose tips led SEC staff to open an investigation. The first whistleblower, who was the first to alert SEC staff of potential wrongdoing and provided substantial, ongoing assistance, received an award of approximately $22 million. The second whistleblower provided additional valuable information, which significantly contributed to the success of the SEC's enforcement action, and received an award of approximately $7 million.|
|$22 million||August 30, 2016||A former financial executive at Monsanto exposed weaknesses in the company’s internal controls that failed to account for millions of dollars in rebates. Monsanto agreed to settle the allegations of accounting fraud for $80 million.
Importantly, external auditors, internal auditors, accountants and other compliance personnel may be eligible for awards under the SEC Whistleblower Program. Indeed, they are often best positioned to discover wrongdoing.
|$20 million||November 14, 2016||According to the SEC's order determining the whistleblower awards, three whistleblowers applied for awards related to the enforcement action. The SEC denied two of the whistleblowers' applications because they did not provide "original information," and issued the full $20 million award to one whistleblower.|
|$18 million||April 28, 2020||The SEC announced an award of more than $18 million to a whistleblower whose tip prompted an enforcement action that returned millions of dollars to retail investors.|
|$17 million||June 9, 2016||A company insider “substantially advanced the agency’s investigation and ultimate enforcement action.”
This award highlights that whistleblowers may receive an award if they provide original information regarding an open SEC investigation if it significantly contributes to the success of the action.
|$16 million||November 30, 2017||Two whistleblowers received awards of more than $8 million each for providing the SEC with critical information that led to a successful enforcement action.
This award demonstrates how whistleblowers can receive an increased award percentage for providing ongoing, extensive, and timely assistance to the SEC. As detailed in the SEC's order, the second whistleblower received the same $8 million award as the first whistleblower by providing additional significant information and ongoing assistance to the SEC that "enabled the Enforcement staff to more fully and quickly understand the misconduct and to assess the legal consequences... [which] saved a substantial amount of time and resources in the Investigation."
|$14 million||September 30, 2013||The whistleblower exposed a fraudulent offering that targeted foreign investors who sought to gain a legal pathway to citizenship through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.|
|$9.2 million||February 23, 2021||The whistleblower provided significant information about an ongoing fraud to the SEC that enabled a large amount of money to be returned to investors harmed by the fraud. In addition, the whistleblower information led to successful related actions by the DOJ, one of which was a non-prosecution agreement (NPA) or deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). The award marks the first SEC whistleblower "related action" award based on a NPA or DPA with the DOJ since amendments to the SEC’s whistleblower program rules became effective on Dec. 7, 2020.|
|$7 million||January 23, 2017||Three whistleblowers split an award of more than $7 million after helping the SEC prosecute an investment scheme.
One whistleblower provided information that was the primary reason that the SEC opened an investigation. That whistleblower received a more than $4 million award. Two other whistleblowers jointly provided new information during the SEC’s investigation that significantly contributed to the success of the SEC’s enforcement action. Those two whistleblowers will split more than $3 million.
|$5.5 million||January 6, 2017||An anonymous whistleblower orally provided the SEC with critical information about ongoing securities fraud. Generally, the SEC requires that whistleblower provide information “in writing.” However, the SEC waived that requirement in this case due to “highly unusual circumstances” and awarded the whistleblower more than $5.5 million for the information.
This award marks the third time that the SEC has deemed it appropriate to waive a procedural requirement. The most recent exception occurred on July 27, 2017, when the SEC issued a $1.7 million whistleblower award to an insider who failed to comply with all of the whistleblower program's rules and had some culpability in the fraud. The former chief of the SEC whistleblower office said that these awards underscore the SEC’s discretionary authority to do what justice requires.
|$5 million||April 20, 2020||The SEC issued a $5 million award to a whistleblower who provided significant information that led to a successful enforcement action. According to the SEC, the whistleblower provided critical evidence of wrongdoing, which helped save time and resources in the SEC’s investigation, and the whistleblower suffered a unique hardship as a result of raising concerns internally.|
|$5 million||May 17, 2016||A former company insider’s detailed tip led the agency to uncover securities violations that would have been nearly impossible for it to detect but for the whistleblower’s information. The SEC's press release noted that employees are often best positioned to witness wrongdoing.
|$4 million||April 25, 2017||The SEC issued the $4 million award to an anonymous whistleblower who provided information that led another governmental authority to a successful enforcement action resulting in significant monetary sanctions. This award highlights that SEC whistleblowers may be eligible for awards for "related actions."|
|$4 million||September 30, 2016||The SEC issued the award to an anonymous whistleblower for “alter[ing] the agency to a fraud.”
The lack of publicly available information about the anonymous whistleblower and the enforcement action underscores how serious the SEC is about protecting whistleblower's. Under the program, whistleblower may report anonymously through an SEC whistleblower attorney.
|$3.8 million||July 14, 2020||The SEC issued a $3.8 million award to a whistleblower that provided new information
during the course of an ongoing investigation into a fraudulent scheme. According to the order announcing the award, the information that the whistleblower provided “helped the Commission halt an ongoing fraud and return millions of dollars to harmed investors.”
|$3.5 million||May 13, 2016||The whistleblower “bolstered an ongoing investigation with additional evidence of wrongdoing” which helped the SEC during settlement discussions with the company.
This award underscores how whistleblowers may still receive an award even if the SEC already has an open investigation into a matter.
For more information about the SEC Whistleblower Program, download the eBook Tips from SEC Whistleblower Attorneys to Maximize an SEC Whistleblower Award and listen the recent podcast episode of inSecurities Inside the World of Whistleblowers.
CFTC Whistleblower Program
The rules of the CFTC Whistleblower Program are similar to the SEC Whistleblower program, however, the CFTC’s program rewards whistleblowers for exposing violations of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA). Under the program, the CFTC will issue awards to whistleblowers who provide original information about violations of the CEA that leads to successful enforcement actions in excess of $1 million. A whistleblower may receive a reward of between 10% to 30% percent of the total monetary sanctions collected.
Common CFTC whistleblower tips include information about violations or fraud in connection with:
- Commodity futures;
- Commodity options (including fraudulent binary options);
- Swap trading markets;
- Derivatives; and
- Foreign corrupt practices, such as actions that seek to improperly influence foreign officials in connection to the commodities or derivatives markets.
What are the largest CFTC whistleblower awards to date?
Since issuing its first award in 2014, the CFTC Whistleblower Program has issued more than $325 million in awards to whistleblowers. The largest award to a CFTC whistleblower is $200 million.
On August 2, 2018, the CFTC announced the $45 million award. As the whistleblower remained anonymous, there is little information regarding the circumstances, however, reports indicate that the award was related to the manipulation of the ISDAFIX interest-rate benchmark. According to the CFTC’s order determining the whistleblower award, the CFTC reported that while the whistleblowers “raised a red flag,” they did little else to cause the CFTC to open an investigation and their impact was minimal once the investigation was under way, which were the biggest factors in determining how much the whistleblowers could receive.
On July 12, 2018, the CFTC announced the $30 million award. According to reports, the whistleblower exposed that JPMorgan Chase & Co. was charged for not properly disclosing conflicts of interest to clients.
SEC & CFTC Whistleblower Attorneys
If you would like more information on reporting a violation of the federal securities laws or CEA, contact a Whistleblower Attorney at Zuckerman Law for a free, confidential consultation. Zuckerman Law is one of the nation’s leading law firms representing whistleblowers in whistleblower rewards and retaliation cases.
SEC & CFTC Whistleblower Law Firm
How to Qualify for a Whistleblower Award
- See our column in Forbes: One Billion Reasons Why The SEC Whistleblower-Reward Program Is Effective.
- See our column in Going Concern: Sarbanes-Oxley 15 Years Later: Accountants Need to Speak Up Now More Than Ever.
- See our post in Accounting Today: Whistleblower Protections and Incentives for Auditors and Accountants.
- See our post in The Compliance and Ethics Blog: Shkreli Trial Reveals the Challenges Faced by Compliance Whistleblowers.
Are Whistleblowers Protected from Retaliation?
Click here to learn more about anti-retaliation protections for SEC whistleblowers under the Dodd-Frank Act and Sarbanes-Oxley Act.