Cryptocurrencies

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LITO AVERIA

ARE you into bitcoins and use them for commercial transactions? Or are you simply holding on to your bitcoin stash as the virtual currency has recently been going through a steep upsurge in value? The bitcoin, mined using a complex mathematical algorithm, recently peaked at P395,512.64506 before settling at P325,607.34397 apiece on November 12, 2017, up from about P34,881 a year ago. Wow!

Recognizing the upsurge in bitcoin value and the increasing use of cryptocurrencies for commercial transactions, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) issued Circular No. 944 or the Guidelines for Virtual Currency Exchanges (VCEs) putting the operations of companies that operate as VCEs under BSP’s supervision. The regulation requires that the VCEs put in place risk management mechanisms and cybersecurity measures similarly required of banks and other financial institutions under Circular No. 808 that the BSP is poised to update. The BSP considers VCEs similar to remittance companies, requiring the VCEs to register prior to operating as such. The VCEs are also covered by the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001.

Use of cryptocurrencies have surely grown. Legal recognition by countries of cryptocurrencies will likely lead to their wider acceptance. A few countries have proclaimed bitcoin as legal currency. Monetary authorities of some countries have ruled that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are illegal. Others have ruled that the trade in cryptocurrencies is subject to tax while others are developing rules with the goal of exercising oversight on the use of virtual currencies. Still others have adopted a wait-and-see stance.

Legal recognition of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in Japan fueled trading in virtual currencies. But traders and investors in most other countries, while watching developments in the cryptocurrency market closely, are taking a cautious stance. Yet some investors who have closely been keeping track, see cryptocurrencies as worthy investments. Initial Coin Offerings have raised quite sizeable amounts of funding, often for tech startups.

Is it hype or a fad? Or, will cryptocurrencies go mainstream and be treated like fiat currencies? The market will have to wait for developments while governments and monetary authorities move ever so slowly and cautiously.

But as the world awaits, danger lurks. Cybercriminals have taken notice and they invest time probing and searching for likely victims.

Fear, uncertainty, doubt. The approach was used on a Canadian woman who reportedly fell victim to a scam (see: www.yorkregion.com/news-story/7879946–scared-and-vulnerable-richmond-hill-woman-victim-of-bitcoin-fraud/). Receiving a call from someone who claimed to be from the Canada Revenue Agency, the victim was told that she was being charged with tax fraud and that she had to pay up otherwise she would be arrested. She was instructed to deposit the payment via a Bitcoin ATM. It was only later, when she had quite settled, that she realized she had fallen victim to a scam. The scammer apparently had details about her identity, including her name, address and other information and used a spoofed phone number of the police to convince her.

Phishing schemes also abound. An Australian man had just come home from work and wanted to make a quick trade before going to bed. He searched for the trading website he uses, clicked on the link on the top of the list, logged in, and made the trade. Turns out that he accessed a phishing site and his account details were stolen. His bitcoin stash was wiped clean soon after. (See: www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-03/bitcoin-scams-warning-issued-on-bitcoin/9114534)

Ponzi or pyramiding schemes are also on the loose, enticing victims of high returns on investment. Fall for it and you could likely lose the investment. Play it right, get in early and pull out early, then you might earn some. But those who get into it last are highly likely to lose. But then, how do you know that you are getting in early?

There are bitcoin scam sites that offer high returns. The website invites you to put in a bitcoin in return for bitcoins 10 times over within a period of time. The legit-looking website has legal notices and a list of payouts made, which are all bogus, of course. Fall for it and you lose your bitcoin.

Sometimes a phone number is all that it would take. A thief can simply hack into an email account linked to a bitcoin wallet and retrieve the phone number. Then, by exploiting the telco network’s Signaling System No. 7 flaws, perpetrators are able to send and receive SMS messages and even get phone numbers reassigned to another device. A perpetrator, after having reassigned the phone number to his device, initiates a transaction, receives the authentication code to access the bitcoin wallet, and proceeds with his evil deed. (See: fortune.com/2017/08/22/bitcoin-coinbase-hack/ and www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2017/09/18/ss7-google-coinbase-bitcoin-hack/#2421d0fb41a4).

Cryptocurrency value has exponentially been driven to dizzying heights in the past 12 months. Governments and monetary authorities have taken notice. So have financial and investment companies. New cryptocurrencies are also being created and offered. There has been growth in demand and many have invested in it. But some experts have expressed caution. Is it turning out to be another bubble about to burst?

The underlying technology, the Blockchain, maintains an immutable transactionledger, copies shared by everyone into it. There are no reports that it has been hacked. But there are those who have been victimized by cybercriminals. And because anonymity is one of its features, there is no way for anyone to trace where the bitcoin goes. And no chance of recovery.

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