How and where to buy (and sell) bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in the Wild West of exchanges and wallets – and do you have to declare profits to the taxman?
Digital threat firm warns that there a number of fraudulent apps out there promoting Cryptocurrency tokens.
Getting your hands on cryptocurrencies is not the easiest process.
This is Money takes a look at some of the exchanges and wallets out there.
But be warned – the cryptocurrency market is full of dangerous elements
One reader tells us of sending his passport details to Slovenia to buy ripple.
Recently, This is Money received an e-mail from a reader which started: ‘You need to have a section dedicated to crypto technology and currencies.
‘This is now a market exploding with ICOs, new currencies daily, technological advancements and a market worth over $550billion.
‘The technology is the biggest technological leap since the founding of the internet.’
Bitcoin bullet: Many may have been tempted into buying and selling cryptocurrencies – but may not know how to do it.
It highlights just how quickly the cryptocurrency phenomenon has exploded in recent months and how much some investors believe in the technology.
You can read our at-a-glance round-up of some of them here.
BitCoin- Ethereum – LiteCoin Tokens Favoured by ICO’s
For the purpose of cryptocurrency trading.
But, recent activity and price swings have shown just how volatile the world of bitcoin, ethereum, ripple and co are. Some coins fell by 25 per cent in one day – a huge whack for any investor, experienced or otherwise.
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HOW THIS IS MONEY CAN HELP
How to choose the best (and cheapest) DIY investing Isa – and our pick of the platforms.
Nevertheless, many readers are asking how they can get their hands on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies safely and securely, and importantly, how they can sell if they want to take profits.
However, it is the Wild West out there.
So let’s start with the warnings. As mentioned above, digital currencies are volatile and not for the faint-hearted.
You should read our bitcoin box below.
Yes, there are plenty of stories about how people have become rich investing in bitcoin at the start and some self-titled experts are saying this is the best new financial investment you can make.
But there have also been plenty of grumbles about it, including from stalwart US investor Warren Buffett – while the Financial Conduct Authority has also warned bout the dangers of investing in bitcoin.
If you do buy into bitcoin
Find out how bitcoin and the blockchain works, so that you have some understanding of the system, the ledger, the major players and the public and private key elements.
Remember bitcoin yields nothing and its main source of value is scarcity. Most bitcoin activity is trading not investing.
Research coin wallets, the digital vaults where cryptocurrency is held, and consider security carefully. Bitcoins have been stolen before, understand how this happened.
Be prepared for extreme volatility. The price can move by 20 per cent in one day and you could easily lose half of your cash in a far quicker time that investing in the stock market.
Consider how you would cash in any gains. There are reports that this has proved hard for some people. A time of market stress could lead to people being locked in and unable to trade.
Read our guide to How to be a successful investor, which looks at the far less high octane world of long-term investing and how to make it a success.
What is bitcoin?
The digital currency that most will be familiar with is free from government interference and can be shared instantly online. It doesn’t rely on trusting one central monetary authority.
The underlying technology is blockchain, a financial ledger maintained by a network of computers that can track the movement of any asset without the need for a central regulator.
WILD WEST WARNING
According to analysis by digital threat firm RiskIQ, the world’s top app stores are hosting more than 600 blacklisted bitcoin apps which leave users open to hackers.
It looked at 18,408 apps across 20 app stores, including Apple and Google Play. It found a staggering 661 to be blacklisted by official cyber security vendors – but still available for download by users.
Hackers behind the malicious apps, which have been blacklisted by one or more cyber security vendors, can trick users into handing over large sums of money or personal details for financial gain.
The rise in unofficial and potentially malicious apps across multiple app stores will alarm potential investors looking to buy into bitcoin – and highlights that you need to be on your guard.
Fabian Libeau, vice president of RiskIQ, says: ‘We are seeing threat actors around the world exploiting what is already a hostile currency in a lawless digital world.
‘Before handing over any cash or personal data investors should carry out thorough research into the exchange and wallet apps they intend to use.’
If you plan to buy cryptocurrency in 2018, you must arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible to avoid the conmen.
Wild West: Buying and selling digital currencies can be a minefield of cowboys and chancers.
SET UP A WALLET.
Search engine data shows that queries for ‘buy bitcoin’ outstripped ‘buy gold’ in the latter part of 2017.
This is Money data – showed just how many people have been searching some of the most popular digital currencies.
The price of bitcoin surged from around $1,000 at the start of the year to near the $20,000 mark in December, bringing it to the attention of the British public.
To get a cryptocurrency, you need a wallet – this is where the digital currency lives.
HAVE YOU BOUGHT INTO THE CRAZE?
Have you invested in cryptocurrencies in recent months?
Let us know in the comments section below how you did it and how easy or difficult you found the process.
Because it is a relatively new financial craze, it is hard to say which firms offering wallets are reputable while a number have disappeared or lost customers cash, including Mt.Gox in 2014.
Meanwhile, in 2016, a hack saw the Bitfinex exchange platform lose 120,000 bitcoin.
One of the biggest websites to deal in bitcoin is Coinbase – an online exchange, which also has a wallet option. It has a user friendly app and two-factor authentication.
Another is Blockchain.info which is similar to Coinbase. They are both backed with millions in venture capital funding.
Visit coinbase.com/signup and blockchain.info to find out more.
However, it only deals with the most familiar digital currencies – if you want to invest in an obscure one, it is much harder (as we explain below).
Another popular wallet is Electrum, which is a wallet for desktop computer use.
BUY AT AN EXCHANGE
Once you have set up your wallet, you add cryptocurrency to it. You find an exchange and send them cash, either by bank transfer or credit/debit card to obtain digital currency. Bank transfer tends to be the cheaper method.
For example, Coinbase charges 3.99 per cent on debit and credit transactions, or 1.49 per cent for a standard buy/sell.
Many have strict requirements for ID purposes. A handy website is Bittybot, which lets you compare brokers and fees, alongside user ratings.
Two of the most popular brokers are Coinify and Coinbase, mentioned above.
Meanwhile, a firm called London Block Exchange, based in Canary Wharf, is soon to launch, allowing people to buy and spend five online currencies – bitcoin, ethereum, litecoin, monero and ripple – which will be linked to a Visa debit card.
If you buy bitcoin, for example, you will need to hand over your unique key. This is an identifier that represents your account and is different from your wallet log-in. It should be easy to find within the details of your account.
Brokers will ask for this address to make a transaction. When it comes to selling, there should be no issue selling a mainstream coin such as bitcoin.
You can use the same broker you bought it from and it will involve them giving you an other key to send your bitcoin too from your wallet. Once the transaction is confirmed, you should receive your cash.
Remember, some of these exchanges can crash unexpectedly. For instance, Kraken, the fifth largest cryptocurrency exchange, was out of service for two days earlier in the month after scheduled maintenance that was supposed to take two hours.
It left many nervy investors wondering if they’d be able to cash out, if they so wished.
It is also possible to buy bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies through some existing trading platforms, where you actually own the coins themselves.
One popular website which advertises heavily is eToro. We’ve seen adverts on the London Underground and even on easyJet flight boarding passes. Its system works similar to a DIY investing platform’s nominee account system, eToro holds the cryptocurrencies and you have a claim on those that you have bought.
Previously the platform used contracts for difference for crypto, but it no longer does.
I BOUGHT €4K OF RIPPLE ON BITSTAMP
One This is Money reader, Alex – who only wants his first name mentioned – invested €1,600 in ripple last June, a further €1,600 at the start of December and a further €1,000 over Christmas.
He chose ripple after a friend-of-a-friend recommendation from an IT consultant with a keen interest in cryptocurrencies.
He says that they had used an exchange called Gatehub. However, Alex says when he went to invest, the website was sticky and slow.
After some research and a raft of good reviews, he plumped for Bitstamp.
At the time of his investment, ripple was not really heard of, with only bitcoin and ethereum really in the mainstream domain, making it harder to get hold of.
However, it took some hoops to get involved. It took a week to get verified, which involved him sending a copy of passport to the Bitstamp HQ in Slovenia, along with a bank transfer, which meant having his Iban and Swift Code to hand.
He says that recently, a friend of his has also tried to sign up with Bitstamp, but the company is quoting five weeks to verify, thanks to a surge of interest.
He says his June investment saw ripple at $0.22 a coin, but this fell to $0.10 not long afterwards, testing his nerve at the very beginning.
Eventually it rose and he was confident to make another investment, in December, when the coin went to $0.38 a coin.
By mid-January, it raced to a record high near $4 a coin – and Alex said his account had grown to €34,000 (it’s measured in euros as it is Slovenian based) from roughly €4,000 invested.
He said on one train journey home, his account had collapsed from €34,000 to €25,000, as investors began to panic.
He believes the price went up after rumours that ripple was heading to Coinbase, one of the main crypto players, meaning more people could invest, thus driving up the price.
However, the firm issued a statement saying this wasn’t the case – and it lead to a bloodbath.
So, was it easy to cash out? Alex says it was. He sold 8,000XRP making a tidy profit and taking away his exposure. This was sold within seconds on the site to eager investors.
It has left him with 12,000XRP that he plans to keep hold of. Currently, it has ‘stabilised’ to around $1.15 a coin.
He says Bitstamp charge 0.24 per cent for buying and selling. The cost, he says, of selling, was €9 in fees. It was also warned that it would take up to three working days to arrive in his account. It took two.
We asked whether his bank had been in touch regarding any suspicious activity, giving the amounts of money being transferred and having been received overseas. He says he hasn’t.
A raft of case studies recently in the Financial Times revealed problems cashing out their profits, with some banks suspicious of where customers had received huge sums.
Transferring cash and passport details to Slovenia for an investment punt is extreme – but Alex says the risk has paid dividends.
Some websites offer investors the chance to take a punt on cryptocurrencies, but not actually own any of their own.
Here, you buy ‘Contract For Difference’ agreements. This is where an investor and a broker agree to pay each other the difference between the price of an asset at the moment the contract is made and its later price when you decide to close it.
The Financial Conduct Authority warned against betting on the currency using CFDs in November.
They are complex financial instruments which allow novice investors to guess whether the price will go up or down.
Punters could lose up to 50 times their deposit if they get it wrong, meaning they could rapidly rack up huge debts.
The FCA said CFD traders are ‘at risk of suffering significant losses and potentially losing more than you have invested’.
OBSCURE COINS HARDER TO BUY
Many may believe bitcoin may have peaked – or reached a point in which they cannot make some of the astronomical gains made by early investors.
As such, they want to take a ‘punt’ on a lesser known coin. There is plenty of them.
This is Money recently signed up to New Zealand based website Cryptopia to see a list of what is available. It was huge.
Two that are being tipped to grow this year from a low level by a panel of four fintech leaders for price comparison website Finder in a cryptocurrency predictions survey are cardano (ADA) and stellar lumens (XLM).
They claim that cardano – a third generation digital currency – will rise by more than 8,000 per cent this year from $0.78 a coin to $68.
However, getting your mitts on the coin as a speculative punt is not as easy as it seems.
Hardly any of the aforementioned brokers or wallets cater for the smaller currencies, only the main players such as bitcoin.
You then find yourself on niche websites – or in our case, Cryptopia.
But to buy any currency on many of these types of website requires you to already own bitcoin or another major cryptocurrency.
Or in Alex’s case above, sending bank and passport details to Slovenia, which is a hurdle many – understandably – would not be comfortable with.
When we searched ‘how to buy cardano UK’ a step-by-step guide said we needed to download software for the wallet and own ethereum to get the coin.
We’re not sure how many people would be comfortable downloading software onto their computers or phones from sources they do not know.
It is open to all sorts of fraudulent activity.
DO YOU DECLARE PROFITS TO THE TAXMAN?
Those who have made profits from buying and selling digital currencies may be left a little confused about whether or not they need to pay tax.
With the deadline for tax returns fast approaching, many may not know whether or not to declare it – and the HMRC guidelines are a little fuzzy.
The last time it issued guidance on the taxation of cryptocurrencies was March 2014, which feels like a lifetime ago in the world of fast moving digital currencies.
So is it an investment meaning Capital Gains Tax is payable on gains above £11,300? This is 18 per cent for basic-rate income tax payers and 28 per cent for higher-rate taxpayers.
Or should it be treated as gambling, which means profits are tax-free?
An HMRC spokesman says: ‘We don’t normally tax betting and gambling because it is usually not classed as trading income.
‘But there may be circumstances where factors such as the degree of skill and organisation would make the activity more likely to be taxable as trading income. Each case will depend on its own facts.’