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The government’s done a deep-dive on how consumers have been hurt by crypto

The US government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has put out a warning that it’s seeing a rise in complaints related to cryptocurrencies and assets. As much of a shock as that may be, it’s not just concerned with straight-up fraud and scams, though those are the most common problems the agency hears about — the CFPB also says consumers have been sounding the alarm about issues with transactions going through, lost savings, and more.

The bulletin is a 45-page document that analyzes the crypto-related complaints the CFPB has received from October 2018 to September 2022, showing the increasing frequency of consumers reaching out for help and providing several examples of bad behavior. In that time frame, almost 40 percent of the over 8,300 complaints the agency received were about scams and fraud, 25 percent where about miscellaneous transaction problems, and 16 percent were about money not being available when promised. The most complaints — around 13 percent — came from California, followed by Florida with 689 complaints, around 8 percent.

Chart that shows the price of Bitcoin rising between January 2019 and July 2022, along with the number of virtual currency complaints.

The weekly count of virtual currency-related complaints mapped against the price of Bitcoin.

Chart: CFPB

The report also digs into the surprisingly common practice of exchanges freezing funds, which the CFPB says has affected “millions of customers.” And that’s just when it’s done on purpose; the bureau has also received plenty of complaints about technical difficulties at exchanges, especially during large price fluctuations, where not being able to trade could wind up costing users a lot of money.

For those that have been paying attention, most of the info in the document won’t be particularly surprising. The crypto fraud has been hard to miss over the past few years, from all sorts of NFT shenanigans, to fake livestreams trying to shuffle people off to shady websites. There’s also no shortage of old scams that have been given a crypto twist, like wire transfer and romance frauds. The CFPB actually mentions the latter, in the form of the horrifically-named “pig butchering” scams, where a phony romantic interest will pressure someone into handing over money for a supposed investment.

It is, however, a sober reminder of what’s happened as members of the general public have gotten caught up in a crypto-frenzy that saw Bitcoin and Ethereum reach dizzying highs of $68,789.63 and $4,891.70 respectively before they came crashing down earlier this year. (If you bought either at their peaks, you’re currently looking at a more than 70 percent loss.) Add in an NFT-mania, the fall of supposedly “stable” coins, and what looks like it could be the collapse of a major exchange (it wouldn’t be the first major crypto company to go bankrupt), and it’s no wonder why the CFPB is seeing an increasing number of complaints.

It also shows that the government’s still keeping an eye on the fraud that’s happening there. In the past year we’ve seen state and federal governments considering how to regulate cryptocurrencies and the exchanges that deal in them, as well as the Department of Justice going after schemes both big and small.

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