Consumer bureau now taking — and expecting — Bitcoin complaints



Consumer Financial Protection Bureau headquarters in Washington. (Adam Fagen on Flickr)

While members of Congress might be holding events on Capitol Hill to celebrate Bitcoin, a dozen blocks west, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now saying that it's wary of the risks associated with such virtual currencies.

What risks? "Unclear costs, volatile exchange rates, the threat of hacking and scams and that companies may not offer help or refunds for lost or stolen funds," the agency writes in a new warning to consumers about not just Bitcoin, but similar products like XRP and Dogecoin. Here's Richard Cordray, director of the agency dreamed up and stood up by now-Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

"Virtual currencies may have potential benefits, but consumers need to be cautious and they need to be asking the right questions. ... Virtual currencies are not backed by any government or central bank, and at this point consumers are stepping into the Wild West when they engage in the market."

It's not an altogether surprising move; as the CFPB is pushing for tighter regulation and more aggressive oversight on the financial products consumers depend upon, one of Bitcoin's potential advantages — in addition to perhaps being in some cases "cheaper [and] faster," CFPB concedes — is that it is less responsive to government pressures than your more traditional currencies.

The agency has opened up its complaint services to woes with Bitcoin and its like. Its Money Transfer complaint page now features the addition, "or Virtual Currency."

That said, CFPB hints that it is keeping an open mind on the matter, willing to use its unique complaint-driven policy-making feedback loop to get to know Bitcoin. "The CFPB," writes the agency, "will use all complaints to better understand the virtual currency market and its effect on consumers."

Nancy Scola is a reporter who covers the intersections of technology and public policy, politics, and governance.

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Nancy Scola · August 11, 2014

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