Cryptocurrencies let you buy goods and services, or trade them for profit. Here’s more about what cryptocurrency is, how to buy it and how to protect yourself.
A cryptocurrency (or “crypto”) is a digital currency that can be used to buy goods and services, but uses an online ledger with strong cryptography to secure online transactions. Much of the interest in these unregulated currencies is to trade for profit, with speculators at times driving prices skyward.
The most popular cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, has had volatile price moves this year, reaching nearly $65,000 in April before losing nearly half its value in May. (You can check the current price to buy Bitcoin here.)
Here are seven things to ask about cryptocurrency, and what to watch out for.
1. What is cryptocurrency?
Cryptocurrency is a form of payment that can be exchanged online for goods and services. Many companies have issued their own currencies, often called tokens, and these can be traded specifically for the good or service that the company provides. Think of them as you would arcade tokens or casino chips. You’ll need to exchange real currency for the cryptocurrency to access the good or service.
Cryptocurrencies work using a technology called blockchain. Blockchain is a decentralized technology spread across many computers that manages and records transactions. Part of the appeal of this technology is its security.
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2. How many cryptocurrencies are there? What are they worth?
More than 10,000 different cryptocurrencies are traded publicly, according to CoinMarketCap.com, a market research website. And cryptocurrencies continue to proliferate, raising money through initial coin offerings, or ICOs. The total value of all cryptocurrencies on May 27, 2021, was more than $1.7 trillion — down from April high of $2.2 trillion, according to CoinMarketCap. The total value of all bitcoins, the most popular digital currency, was pegged at about $735 billion — down from April high of $1.2 trillion.