Cryptocurrencies are a digital form of money that operates without the need for a central bank or company to record transactions and issue new currency. They also aren’t tied to anything of physical value, such as gold or other metals, so they are speculative assets whose values can fluctuate significantly.
Many investors use them to speculate on the future value of other investments, much like they might buy and sell stocks or other equities. Because they are so volatile, they can be dangerous for novice investors who aren’t prepared to handle sudden price drops.
As a decentralized asset, cryptocurrency’s value is determined by the number of people who use it for purchasing goods and services. That’s why cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin can rise in value when more people use them to purchase items at retail outlets and online.
When you buy something using a cryptocurrency, the transaction is recorded on a public ledger called a blockchain. That information is accessible to anyone who has a computer and the Internet connection needed to view it. When you transfer cryptocurrency to another person, that person can enter the transaction in the blockchain, which records it. That information then is available to anyone who has access to the blockchain, including hackers.
While the technology behind cryptocurrencies is sophisticated, it’s still relatively young and hasn’t been tested in many real-world applications. This is why they are a popular target for hackers and a conduit for fraudulent activity, such as money laundering and other financial crimes.
There are also legitimate uses for cryptocurrencies, though those are few and far between. For example, a growing number of online retailers accept bitcoin and other cryptos for payment. People can use those coins to buy electronics, designer clothing and luxury watches.
The value of a crypto is determined by the number of people who use them for purchases and by how much demand there is for the coins. Some cryptocurrencies have finite mechanisms that help reinforce their worth, such as a cap on the number of Bitcoins that can be mined. And some coins use the process of “burning” to increase their value by destroying a small percentage of their supply.
While a few major companies are starting to test cryptocurrency-based transactions, most merchants who accept them do so at their own risk. They must comply with regulations in the United States and other countries. In addition, they may face anti-money-laundering guidelines and other restrictions imposed by their banking partners. And, if they run into trouble, their banks may not be willing to help them. That’s why it’s important to do your research before buying cryptos and choosing where to store them. If you want to be safe, consider using a wallet that offers cold storage for your long-term holdings. That way, even if your wallet gets stolen, your coins won’t be easily accessible to fraudsters. Learn how to keep your crypto safe here.