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Crypto Criminals Take in $4.3 Billion in 2019, CipherTrace Reports

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cryptocurrency

cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrency criminals have taken in an estimated $4.3 billion USD in 2019, according to CipherTrace.

CipherTrace, a cryptosecurity company based in Silicon Valley, has released its Q2 2019 Cryptocurrency Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Report, which is a detailed overview of major cryptocurrency thefts, scams, and fraud around the world. The firm’s Q1 report estimated that cybercriminals illicitly obtained more than $1.2 billion USD in cryptocurrency during the first three months of the year alone. To put the severity of these figure in context, last year’s total figure for crypto theft was $1.1 billion USD.

“These thefts only represent the losses that are visible. CipherTrace estimates the true number of crypto asset losses was much higher,” the company’s report notes. Included in the total figure is $850 million USD that iFinex—the company that operates the Bitfinex exchange and the stablecoin Tether—allegedly defrauded from its customers by handing over the funds to a Panama-based “bank” called Crypto Capital.

Exit Scams

One of the most worrying threats to investors in cryptocurrency is the prevalence of “exit scams,” whereby scammers launch a new cryptocurrency based on a promising concept, then they raise the money from investors through an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) before mysteriously disappearing with investors’ funds. One of the most well-known involves QuadrigaCX, the cryptocurrency exchange in Canada that saw its founderthe only person with access to customer fundsmysteriously pass away in India, leaving investors unable to access their invested funds.

Pyramid Schemes

The world of cryptocurrency is also rife with pyramid schemes, with CipherTrace reporting that the biggest single loss of 2019 was the PlusToken scheme, which claimed to have developed a high-tech trading bot that yields 10% interest per month for investors. According to CipherTrace’s report, the PlusToken platform reportedly recruited over 100,000 users and raised over $189 million through membership fees between May 2018 and March 2019. The amount of money held by PlusToken is rumored to be over $2.9 billion.

>> Coinbase UK Drops Support for Zcash: Why? We Don’t Know!

How are the Authorities Responding?

Due to the intangible nature of cryptocurrency, cyber frauds are incredibly difficult for authorities to crack down on. However, in one significant example, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) announced a new “travel rule”—which the G20 gave its full support for in June—that requires transactions between exchanges to include personal information about the sender and receiver of funds, much like international bank transfers.

Cryptocurrency regulation has now become a priority, particularly given Facebook’s announcement that it will launch its own currency Libra, and with political figures becoming increasingly concerned with blockchain’s potential for global financial disruption.

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Facebook’s Libra May Cause Banks to Cut Financing to the Company

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Libra

Libra

Ever since the potential launch of Facebook’s Libra was announced by the social media behemoth, the company’s cryptocurrency project has lurched from one problem to the next. Regulators from different parts of the world had voiced their concerns about the Libra cryptocurrency, and even the President of the United States slammed Facebook in one of his famous tweets.

New Trouble?

In a new development, it has now emerged that if Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) does not take care of the regulatory issues with regards to Libra, then banks might refuse to provide services to the company.

There have been fears from central banks that Libra might try to become a replacement of fiat currency, and today, the CEO of a major bank spoke about the possibility of not providing banking services to Mark Zuckerberg’s company. Ralph Hamers, the Chief Executive Officer of ING, has stated that banks might consider that step if Facebook does not comply with all the regulatory issues. He stated that if the company does not comply with regulatory frameworks, then there is the risk of criminal activity. In such a situation, banks will probably have no other option but to pull the plug.

>> Bitfinex Wants to Subpoena Former Bank Exec Over Missing $880 Million

Hamers said, “Then we can take measures and exit the client, or not accept the client, so those are discussions you would have to have.” As everyone knows, banks are bound by stringent regulatory frameworks, and it is highly unlikely that they are going to be able to do business with a company that enters the financial system without the proper checks.

It is an understandable degree of caution from ING, and it remains to be seen if more banks come up with such statements with regards to Libra. However, it should be reiterated that Facebook had earlier stated that it is going to launch the crypto token only after meeting all the regulatory requirements.

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Facebook Libra to Be Pegged to Multiple Currencies as Stablecoin

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Libra

Libra

One of the biggest disruptions to the crypto space this year has been the announcement of Libra from the tech giant Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) back in July. The white paper published by the company about its cryptocurrency resulted in a lot of chaos and eventually led to turmoil in the crypto market as lawmakers expressed their doubts about Libra quite vehemently.

Key Updates

The company was asked to clarify several aspects of the Libra project to United States senators. In a report by one of the leading business publications, the company told Senators yesterday that the token is going to be a form of stablecoin. Unlike a traditional cryptocurrency, it is going to be backed by an algorithm, a currency, or even a commodity.

According to reports, the currencies that are going to be used to back Libra are going to consist of major currencies. Some of the currencies that will be backing Facebook Libra are the Singapore Dollar, the United States Dollar, the Euro, and the Japanese Yen, among others. The inquiry was put in place by Mark Werner, the Democratic Senator from Virginia. The company apparently put forward the list of fiat currencies that are going to back up its cryptocurrency.

>> Bitcoin Could Fall Below $10,000 Mark as Altcoins Gain

That being said, Facebook did eventually clarify that the final list of currencies that are going to back Libra is going to be finalized by the Libra Association. The Libra Association is made up of a range of entities and companies that are part of the entire project. That being said, the company went on to state that the digital currency is only going to be offered in regions after all regulatory concerns with regards to the digital currency have been cleared. It went on to state that Libra will only be offered after appropriate permission has been awarded by those in charge of the region.

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CME Sees Second-Best Month for Bitcoin Futures Trading

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CME

CME

January was the second-best month for CME’s Bitcoin futures trading since its 2017 launch, averaging 10,800 contracts, 69% greater than the average daily volume in 2019. Last month also saw new options on Bitcoin futures picking up pace. Since launch, 466 options contracts, or 2,300 equivalent Bitcoin, have traded—nearly 40% as blocks, showing signs of institutional interest, CME said. It also registered a record monthly average of 56 large open interest holders (entities that hold 25+ contracts).

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) launched its Bitcoin futures options last month, with US$2.3 million traded on the first day alone, eclipsing the slow start made by rival exchange Bakkt, which is headed up by the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange, the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE). Both platforms were launched with the intention of increasing institutional investment in cryptocurrencies, essentially trying to make the trading of digital assets more mainstream.

Bakkt, which was one of the most eagerly awaited arrivals to the crypto world last year, has hugely underwhelmed since its launch in September, particularly in comparison with CME. The strong start to CME futures options has helped drive a resurgence in Bitcoin (BTC) value. After plummeting to $6,860 earlier in the year, the world’s leading cryptocurrency bounced back and is currently staring at a 3-month peak of over $10,200.

>> Ethereum (ETH) Almost Doubled This Year: Here are the Major Triggers

CME also revealed that it has seen a total trading volume of over US$100 billion since its launch in December 2017, which is an overwhelming endorsement of institutional interest in crypto trading. Tim McCourt, Group Managing Director of CME, also said that the exchange operates the most liquid Bitcoin derivatives markets in the world, which is an indication of market maturity, something that institutions generally look out for and could be a factor in driving higher trading volumes in future.

CME Group also reported its Q4 earnings today of $544.4 million or $1.52 per share. Analysts had expected the company to earn $1.54 per share, while revenue for the quarter fell 8.1% to $1.14 billion from $1.24 billion last year.

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Libra Still Faces Uphill Battle Despite Softened Swiss Stance

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Libra

Libra

A Swiss government memo appears to show a softening in the nation’s stance towards Libra, the proposed digital coin led by Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), just weeks after its former president described the project as a failure.

The memo, seen by Bloomberg, shows the Swiss government refusing to rule out the possibility that Libra may one day be granted regulatory approval in Switzerland, despite major reservations being held by EU regulators. Government officials will continue to monitor the progress of the project, paying particular attention to “the form which Libra may take in the future.” 

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New Zealand Tax Authorities Give the Go Ahead for Crypto Payroll

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crypto payroll

crypto payroll

The crypto train has not yet stopped chugging along. More and more companies and countries are looking to get involved in the crypto sector, despite the hardships it has faced the past year. New Zealand just so happens to be the latest country, with reports coming out on Tuesday that said the sovereign island country will allow employers to pay their workers in cryptocurrency.

Here’s everything we know.

New Zealand Allows Employers to Pay Staff in Cryptocurrency

This month, New Zealand tax authorities published a ruling that featured a section giving guidance for companies that want to compensate their staff in cryptocurrency. Blockchain News reported this yesterday, August 13.

The guidance given by tax authorities included how to calculate PAYE taxes when paying in cryptocurrency, as well as highlighting that companies can use foreign exchanges when facilitating crypto payments.

“If the appropriate valuation cannot be obtained from a New Zealand-based exchange, an overseas-based exchange can be used,” the ruling said. “For some ‘altcoins’ (crypto-assets other than bitcoin) it may be necessary to convert into U.S. dollars or another fiat currency, and then convert into NZD.”

This is, of course, significant news as several countries remain anti-cryptocurrency. And New Zealand recognizes this, with the ruling calling New Zealand’s decision to allow crypto payroll “quite progressive.”

>> Ripple (XRP) Gains Regulatory Clarity in the UK: What’s Next?

Not the Only Ones

Despite the significance, and despite the countries that continue to have a hard stance on virtual currencies, New Zealand is not the only country to consider crypto payroll. As various reports noted, last year, CEO of Uphold Robin O’Connell discussed the opportunities using currencies like Bitcoin in payroll will bring.

“With money, people always want the same three things: faster, easier and more transparent,” O’Connell explained. “We think with Bitwage and Dash, we can continue to open that up for a lot more people all over the world.”

Takeaway

What do you think about New Zealand’s decision to allow crypto payroll? Let us know in the comments below.

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IBM Hints at Entering the Stablecoin Arena

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IBM

IBM

Jesse Lund, head of blockchain solutions at IBM, has just hinted that the tech company has plans to explore stablecoins in an interview with Cheddar yesterday. Lund did not disclose when this venture may debut but said it would be on its World-Wire platform.

IBM and Stablecoins

IBM began its venture with Stellar in late-2017 and finalized most of its plans in mid-2018. Stellar is an open-sourced, decentralized protocol that focuses on transfers between fiat currency and digital currency.

Lund told Cheddar that US banks are “very interested” in using stablecoins to send cross-border to replace the current SWIFT system. The reason banks are interested in stablecoins over other forms of digital currency is that stablecoins are linked 1:1 to fiat currencies making them more ‘stable’.

“We’re really feeling excited that we’re on a roll to build something new and revolutionary that’s really going to change the landscape of cross-border payments,” Lund explained.

IBM feels the market demand for stablecoins has risen, despite the copious amount of similar coins that have flooded the market as of late. Lund hinted that IBM hopes to create an ecosystem of various digital assets, with many different types of digital assets—including stablecoins.

>> RAID Project: Bittrex Cancels RAID IEO Hours Before Launch

Cheddar asked Lund how the company’s alleged stablecoin compared to the one that JPMorgan just released. The IBM exec said that the company’s solution to cross-border transactions would be “somewhere in between.” Lund claims that this new venture would not be a proprietary coin like JPM coin but feels the major US bank is doing what’s best for them. The bank’s stablecoin will only be used with clients of JPMorgan.

IBM feels its stablecoin should be more broadly accessible and World-Wire seeks to do just that. When this project will be released is still up in the air, but the recent interview proves it is just around the corner.

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Crypto Theft Could Hit $1.2 Billion in 2019, Says Cipher Trace

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Crypto theft

Crypto theft

Crypto theft has greatly reduced this year compared to last year as regulators continue to enhance their scrutiny and the enforcement of anti-money laundering controls.

Crypto Theft Could Hit $1 billion Mark

Despite being $500 million less than last year, crypto theft could still go well beyond a billion dollars by the end of this year.

A quarterly report released on May 1 by Cipher Trace indicates that investigatory specialists had found that over $356 million worth of crypto had been stolen in Q1 2019. The amount stolen includes the CoineBene and Cytopia exchange hacks and also the $195 million that was lost in December last year when Quadriga CX exchange founder Gerald Cotton died.

Projections of Cipher Trace indicate that crypto theft could hit $1.2 billion by the end of the year after a New York attorney general indicated that Bitfinex had misplaced around $850 million in crypto. The crypto market currently has a market capitalization of around $176 billion and the bulk of this is held by Bitcoin with a market cap of $94 billion, while Ethereum has a market cap of $17 billion. If the market loses $1.2 billion this year, this will be a 0.7% loss in the total value of the market.

>> Bitfinex Tether Issue Continues: CoinFlip and TRON Postpone Plans

Intensifying Anti-Money Laundering Rules

Although crypto theft could hit $1.2 billion this year, this is significantly lower than the $1.7 billion that was reported in 2018 and a 400% increase relative to 2017. Stolen crypto assets and funds are mostly taken offshore where regulators cannot reach them.

Cipher Trace has indicated that in the last two years there has been a 46% increase in cross border crypto payments going from US exchanges to offshore platforms. The firm has also indicated that the number of regulators is currently growing across the globe and they have intensified KYC and AML rules. Cipher Trace indicates that such crypto regulations could lead to bans of privacy coins.

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Wuabit Service Means Users Can Send Crypto through WhatsApp

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Wuabit

According to Medium, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will be able to be sent through the WhatsApp messaging service. A new crypto wallet service developed by Wuabit will mean the sending of crypto via WhatsApp.

Wuabit

The Wuabit service will give users access to their tokens through WhatsApp. In essence, the wallet will appear linked to WhatsApp and is capable of all the regular wallet functions. This includes sending, receiving, and trading crypto assets.

According to Wuabit, it is a “cryptocurrency wallet accessible via a chat interface.”

The Wuabit team is planning on bringing the service to other messaging platforms Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and Viber. According to Medium, the service will be smart, implementing AI to enable users to type statements telling it to send crypto. This means it is accessible to those who aren’t tech-savvy and want a convenient and simple way to deal in crypto. The overall aim of the service is to help the mass adoption of cryptocurrencies.

At present, the service supports Bitcoin (BTC). But Wuabit has said it may integrate Litecoin (LTC), Bitcoin Cash (BCH), and Ethereum (ETH) in the coming months. A public beta will launch next month.

>> LVMH Blockchain: Louis Vuitton on the Blockchain?

Social Media and Crypto

This is not the first time a social media company or messaging service has thought to integrate with cryptocurrency. Facebook is the biggest social media giant said to be entering the space. Though unclarified, reports suggest it is creating its own cryptocurrency.

According to a New York Times report posted last month, Facebook is working on its own digital currency to be integrated into its messaging services. However, Bloomberg has suggested that the tech giant is developing a stablecoin. What are your thoughts? Would you use the Wuabit service to send crypto through WhatsApp?

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Kik “Void for Vagueness” Plea Against SEC Dismissed by Judge

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Kik

Kik

Kik, the former messaging app now shifting its focus to cryptocurrency, has been involved in a court case with the SEC, which alleges that a 2017 ICO breached the commission’s regulations due to the fact that its coin, Kin, is actually a security.

Kik Legal Team Struggle for Plausible Explanation

The legal team for Kik has argued in the court of the Southern District of New York that the case against it is null and void based on the premise that the legal definition of an “investment contract” is unclear. However, the presiding judge has dismissed this argument and also threw out a subsequent motion to reconsider. Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein said:

“Defendant does not mention any new matter of fact or law, or any binding precedent that I failed to consider. That is enough to deny the motion. Furthermore, as I originally held, the deliberations within an agency sheds no light on the application of the statute or regulation in issue. If the law is vague, or confusing, or arbitrary, as [kik] argues, that can be argued objectively. Proper discovery should be focused on what [kik] did, and not why the agency decided to bring the case.”

The allegations against Kik stem from its Kin ICO in 2017, which raised over $100 million USD. While the SEC alleges that the token is actually a security and therefore should be registered with the commission, it also argues that management at the company was aware that it would run out of cash by the end of 2017, and that the offering was merely a poorly veiled attempt at keeping the company afloat.

>> Canaan Targets $100 Million Through US IPO: Key Points to Watch

Messaging App Acquisition

Kik’s failure to mount a plausible defense to the accusations leveled at the Toronto-based firm add increased doubt as to whether its planned digital coin will ever actually come to fruition. The company announced in September that it would be shutting down its messaging service and laying off over 100 staff in order to shift the entirety of its focus to cryptocurrency and its ongoing wrangle with the SEC.

The Kik messaging app was saved last month following an acquisition by MediaLab.

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