What is Cryptocurrency?
A cryptocurrency is a digital payment system that does not rely on banks to verify transactions. It is a peer-to-peer system that can allow anyone anywhere to send and receive payments. Rather than physical money being transported and exchanged in the real world, cryptocurrency payments exist solely in the form of digital inputs directed to an online database describing specific transactions.
When you transfer cryptocurrency funds, the transactions are recorded on a public ledger. Cryptocurrencies are stored in digital wallets.
Cryptocurrencies get their name because they use encryption to verify transactions. This means that advanced encryption is required to store and transmit cryptocurrency data between wallets and to the public ledgers. The purpose of encryption is to provide security.
The first cryptocurrency was Bitcoin, which was founded in 2009 and remains the best-known currency to this day. Much of the interest in cryptocurrencies comes from trading, with speculators sometimes driving prices up sharply.
How do cryptocurrencies work?
Cryptocurrencies operate on a distributed public ledger called a blockchain, a record of all transactions held and updated by coin owners.
Cryptocurrency units are created through a process called mining, which involves using computing power to solve complicated mathematical problems that generate coins. Users can also buy the currencies from agents, then store and spend them through crypto wallets.
If you own a cryptocurrency, you have nothing tangible. What you have is a key that allows you to move a record or unit of measure from one person to another without a trusted third party.
Even though Bitcoin has been around since 2009, cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology applications continue to emerge in financial terms, with more use expected in the future. Transactions include bonds, stocks, and other financial assets that can eventually be exchanged using the technology.
Popular Examples of cryptocurrencies
There are thousands of cryptocurrencies. The following are some of the most recognized:
Founded in 2009, Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency and remains the most commonly traded currency. The coin was developed by Satoshi Nakamoto, which is considered to be a pseudonym for an individual or a group of people whose precise identity remains unknown.
Developed in 2015, Ethereum is a blockchain platform with its own cryptocurrency, called Ether (ETH) or Ethereum. It is the most popular cryptocurrency after Bitcoin.
This currency is very similar to Bitcoin; however, it has progressed faster to develop new innovations, including faster payments and processes to enable more transactions.
Ripple is a distributed ledger system founded in 2012. Ripple can be used to track many different types of transactions, not just cryptocurrencies. The company responsible for it worked with several banks and financial institutions.
Non-Bitcoin cryptocurrencies are collectively known as “altcoins” to distinguish them from the original currency.
How to buy cryptocurrencies?
Surely you wonder how to buy cryptocurrencies safely. This usually involves three steps. The following are these steps:
Step 1: Choose a platform
The first step is to decide which platform to use. Generally, you can choose between a traditional broker or a dedicated cryptocurrency exchange:
- traditional agents. These are online brokers that offer methods to buy and sell cryptocurrencies, as well as other financial assets such as bonds, stocks, and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). These platforms typically offer lower exchange costs, but fewer crypto features.
- Cryptocurrency exchanges. There are many cryptocurrency exchanges to choose from, each offering different cryptocurrencies, wallet storage, interest-bearing account options, and more. Many exchanges charge asset-based fees.
When comparing different platforms, consider what cryptocurrencies are on offer, what fees they charge, what their security features are, their storage and withdrawal options, and any educational resources they have.
How to store cryptocurrency
Once you have purchased cryptocurrency, you must store it securely to protect it from theft or hacking. Cryptocurrency is typically stored in encrypted wallets, which are physical devices or online software used to securely store the private keys to your cryptocurrency. Some exchanges provide wallet services, allowing you to store easily and directly through the platform. However, not all exchanges or agents provide you with wallet services automatically.
There are different wallet providers that you can choose from. The terms “hot wallet” and “cold wallet” are used:
- Hot wallet storage: “Hot wallets” refer to cryptographic storage that uses online software to protect the private keys of your assets.
- Cold wallet storage: Unlike hot wallets, cold wallets (also known as hardware wallets) rely on offline electronic devices to securely protect your private keys.
What can you buy with cryptocurrencies?
When initially launched, Bitcoin was intended as a medium for everyday transactions to allow you to buy everything from a cup of coffee to a computer or even high-value items like real estate. Such a concept has yet to materialize and despite the fact that the number of institutions accepting cryptocurrencies is increasing, large transactions with them are very rare. Still, it is possible to buy a wide variety of products on e-commerce websites using cryptocurrency. These are some examples:
Technology and e-commerce sites:
Many companies that sell technology products accept cryptocurrency on their websites, such as newegg.com, AT&T, and Microsoft. Overstock, an e-commerce platform, was one of the first sites to accept Bitcoin. Shopify, Rakuten, and Home Depot also accept it.
Some luxury goods retailers accept cryptocurrency as a form of payment. For example, online luxury goods retailer Bitdials offers Rolex, Patek Philippe, and other high-end watches in exchange for Bitcoin.
Some vehicle dealerships (from general brands to luxury dealers) already accept cryptocurrency as payment.
In April 2021, the Swiss insurance company AXA announced that it would start accepting Bitcoin as a mode of payment for all its lines of insurance, except life insurance (due to regulatory issues). Premier Shield Insurance, an American company that sells auto and home insurance policies, also accepts Bitcoin for premium payments.
If you want to spend cryptocurrency at a retailer that doesn’t accept it directly, you can use a cryptocurrency debit card, such as Bitpay in the United States.
Cryptocurrency scams and fraud
Unfortunately, cryptocurrency crime is on the rise. Cryptocurrency scams include the following:
Fake Websites – Fake sites displaying fake testimonials and cryptocurrency jargon promising huge guaranteed returns, as long as you keep investing.
Virtual Ponzi Schemes: Cryptocurrency criminals promote non-existent opportunities to invest in digital currencies and create the illusion of high returns by paying old investors with new investors’ money. One scam operation, BitClub Network, racked up more than $700 million before its perpetrators were convicted in December 2019 .
“Celebrity” Endorsements: Scammers online pretend to be billionaires or celebrities who promise to multiply your investment in a virtual currency, but instead steal what you sent. They may also use messaging apps or chat rooms to start rumors that a famous businessman is backing a specific cryptocurrency. Once they have encouraged investors to buy and increased the price, the scammers sell their investment, which reduces the value of the coin.
Romance scams: The FBI has warned of a trend in online dating scams , in which scammers persuade people they meet on dating apps or social media to invest or trade in virtual currencies. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center logged more than 1,800 reports of cryptocurrency-focused romance scams in the first 7 months of 2021, with losses of nearly $133 million.
Alternatively, scammers can pretend they are legitimate virtual currency traders or set up fake exchanges to trick people into giving them money. Another cryptocurrency scam involves fraudulent sales strategies for individual cryptocurrency retirement accounts. Then there is direct cryptocurrency hacking, in which criminals break into the digital wallets people keep their virtual money in to steal it.
Are cryptocurrencies safe?
Cryptocurrencies are often created using blockchain technology. A blockchain describes the way in which transactions are recorded in “blocks” and given a timestamp. It’s a somewhat complex and technical process, but the result is a digital ledger of cryptocurrency transactions, which is difficult for hackers to tamper with.
Additionally, transactions require a two-factor authentication process. For example, you may be asked to enter a username and password to initiate a transaction. Afterward, you may be required to enter an authentication code that is sent in a text message to your personal cell phone.
Although security measures have been implemented, that does not mean that it is impossible to hack cryptocurrencies. Several large-sum hacks have severely damaged cryptocurrency startups. Coincheck and BitGrail were attacked by hackers, who respectively made off with $534 million and $195 million. These were the two biggest cryptocurrency hacks of 2018.
Unlike government-backed money, the value of virtual currencies is entirely driven by supply and demand. This can cause wild swings that can lead to big gains for investors or big losses. Additionally, cryptocurrency investments are subject to far fewer regulatory protections than traditional financial products like bonds, stocks, and mutual funds.
Four tips to safely invest in cryptocurrencies
According to Consumer Reports, all investments carry risks; however, some experts consider cryptocurrencies to be one of the riskiest investment options out there. If you want to invest in cryptocurrency, these tips can help you make informed decisions.
Investigate the bags:
Before you invest, find out about cryptocurrency exchanges. It is estimated that there are more than 500 bags to choose from. Do your research, read reviews, and talk to more experienced investors before proceeding.
Learn how to store your digital money:
If you buy cryptocurrency, you must store it. You can keep them in a bag or in a digital wallet. Although there are different types of wallets, each one has its benefits, technical requirements and security levels. Like bags, you should do your research on your storage options before investing.
Diversify your investments:
Diversification is key to any good investment strategy; this is still valid if you invest in cryptocurrencies. Don’t put all your money in Bitcoin, for example, just because that’s the name you know. There are thousands of options and it is better that you diversify your investment in several currencies.
Prepare for volatility:
The cryptocurrency market is very volatile, so you need to be prepared for the ups and downs. You will see drastic changes in prices. If your investment portfolio or mental health can’t take it, cryptocurrencies may not be a wise choice for you.
Cryptocurrencies are all the rage these days, but remember that they are still relatively in their infancy and are considered highly speculative. Investing in something new has its challenges, so you have to be prepared. If you plan to participate, do your research and invest conservatively to get started.
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