Warning Signs About Another Giant Bitcoin Exchange

SAN FRANCISCO — As the price of Bitcoin has soared, the virtual currency has edged toward the mainstream.

Square, the fast-growing payments company run by the Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, has begun selling Bitcoins to ordinary consumers, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange will soon allow banks to trade on the value of Bitcoin.

But if you want to see where the price of Bitcoin is actually determined in round-the-clock bidding, you have to go to a number of unregulated exchanges that often fly in the face of American and European laws.

These days, no exchange is bigger than Bitfinex, an opaque operation that provides no information on its website about where it is or who operates the company.

Bitfinex, which is officially incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, has been fined by regulators in the United States and cut off by American banks, and it has lost millions of dollars of customer money in two separate hackings, leading critics to question whether it even has the money it claims to hold.

In the latest blow, on Tuesday, an alternative virtual currency that is owned and operated by the same people as Bitfinex, known as Tether, announced that it had been hacked and lost around $30 million worth of digital tokens.

None of that has been enough to stop customers from pumping billions of dollars worth of virtual currency trades through Bitfinex in recent weeks — on some days, the exchange claimed to be doing more trades, by dollar value, than some stock exchanges in the United States.

Even many people who believe in virtual currencies worry that the mixture of loose controls and booming trading at the world’s largest exchange is likely to cause trouble for all the investors piling into virtual currencies, even those who don’t go near Bitfinex…

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