18 April 2014

European Banking Authority warns on bitcoin risks; ponders regulation

13 December 2013  |  1255 views  |  0 Source: European Banking Authority

The European Banking Authority (EBA) issued today a warning on a series of risks deriving from buying, holding or trading virtual currencies such as Bitcoins.

The EBA said that consumers are not protected through regulation when using virtual currencies as a means of payment and may be at risk of losing their money. It also added that there is no guarantee that currency values remain stable The warning was issued while the Authority assesses further all relevant aspects associated with virtual currencies, in order to identify whether virtual currencies can and should be regulated and supervised.

According to the EBA, while virtual currencies continue to hit the headlines and are enjoying increasing popularity, consumers need to remain aware of the risks associated with them. In particular, consumers should be aware that exchange platforms tend to be unregulated and are not banks that hold their virtual currency as a deposit. Currently, no specific regulatory protections exist in the EU that would protect consumers from financial losses if a platform that exchanges or holds virtual currencies fails or goes out of business.

The EBA added that the 'digital wallets' containing consumers' virtual currency stored on computers, laptops or smart phones, are not impervious to hackers. Cases have been reported of consumers losing significant amounts of virtual currency, with little prospect of having it returned. Also, when using virtual currency for commercial transactions, consumers are not protected by any refund rights under EU law.

The EBA also reminded that as transactions in virtual currency provide a high degree of anonymity, they may be misused for criminal activities, including money laundering. This misuse could lead law enforcement agencies to close exchange platforms at short notice and prevent consumers from accessing or retrieving any funds that the platforms may be holding for them.

Consumers should also remain mindful that holding virtual currencies may have tax implications, and should make sure that they give due consideration to whether tax liabilities apply in their country when using virtual currenencies.

The EBA recommended that, if consumers buy virtual currencies, they should fully understand their specific characteristics and not use 'real' money that they cannot afford to lose.

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