Archive for March 2014
As my previous post documented, I’ve experimented with localbitcoins.com. Following the arrest of two Miami men for trading on localbitcoins, I decided to seek legal advice on the sitation in Australia.
Online research led me to Nick Karagiannis of Kelly and Co, who was already familiar with Bitcoin: I guess it’s a rare opportunity for excitement in financial regulatory circles! This set me back several thousand dollars (in fiat, unfortunately), but the result was reassuring.
They’ve released an excellent summary of the situation, derived from their research. I hope that helps other bitcoin users in Australia, and I’ll post more in future should the legal situation change.
I bought 10 BTC to play with back in 2011, and have been slowly spending them to support bitcoin adoption. One thing which I couldn’t get reliable information on was how to buy and sell bitcoin within Australia, so over the last few months I decided to sell a few via different methods and report the results here (this also helps my budget, since I’m headed off on paternity leave imminently!).
All options listed here use two-factor authentication, otherwise I wouldn’t trust them with more than cents. And obviously you shouldn’t leave your bitcoins in an exchange for any longer than necessary, since most exchanges over time have gone bankrupt.
Option 1: MtGox AUD
Yes, I transferred some BTC into MtGox and sold them. This gave the best price, but after over two months of waiting the bank transfer to get my money hadn’t been completed. So I gave up, bought back into bitcoins (fewer, since the price had jumped) and thus discovered that MtGox was issuing invalid BTC transactions so I couldn’t even get those out. Then they halted transactions altogether blaming TX malleability. Then they went bankrupt. Then they leaked my personal data just for good measure. The only way their failure could be more complete is if my MtGox Yubikey catches on fire and burns my home to the ground.
Volume: Great (5M AUD/month)
Price Premium: $25 – $50 / BTC
Option 2: localbitcoins.com
According to bitcoincharts.com, localbitcoins is the largest volume method for AUD exchange. It’s not an exchange, so much as a matching and escrow service, though there are a number of professional traders active on the site. The bulk of AUD trades are online, though I sold face to face (and I’ll be blogging about the range of people I met doing that).
localbitcoins.com is a great place for online BTC buyers, since they have been around for quite a while and have an excellent reputation with no previous security issues, and they hold bitcoins in escrow as soon as you hit “buy”. It’s a bit more work than an exchange, since you have to choose the counter-party yourself.
For online sellers, transfers from stolen bank accounts is a real issue. Electronic Funds Transfer (aka “Pay Anyone”) is reversible, so when the real bank account owner realizes their money is missing, the bank tends to freeze the receiving (ie. BTC seller’s) bank account to make sure they can’t remove the disputed funds. This process can take weeks or months, and banks’ anti-fraud departments generally treat bitcoin sellers who get defrauded with hostility (ANZ is reported to be the exception here). A less common scam is fraudsters impersonating the Australian Tax Office and telling the victim to EFT to the localbitcoins seller.
Mitigations for sellers include any combination of:
- Only accepting old-fashioned cash deposits via a branch (though I’m aware of one US report where a fraudster convinced the teller to reverse the deposit, I haven’t heard of that in Australia)
- Insisting on “localbitcoins.com” in the transfer message (to avoid the ATO fraud problem)
- Only dealing with buyers with significant reputation (100+ trades with over 150 BTC is the Gold Standard)
- Insisting on real ID checking (eg. Skype chat of buyer with drivers’ license)
- Only dealing with buyers whose accounts are older than two weeks (most fraudsters are in and out before then, though their reputation can be very good until they get caught)
- Only allowing internal transfers between the same bank (eg. Commonwealth), relying on the bank’s use of two factor authentication to reduce fraud.
Many buyers on localbitcoins.com are newcomers, so anticipate honest mistakes for the most part. The golden rule always applies: if someone is offering an unrealistic price, it’s because they’re trying to cheat you.
Volume: Good (1M AUD/month)
Price Premium: $5 – $20 / BTC
Charge: 1% (selling), 0% (buying)
Option 3: btcmarkets.net
You’ll need to get your bank account checked to use this fairly low-volume exchange, but it’s reasonably painless. Their issues are their lack of exposure (I found out about them through bitcoincharts.com) and lack of volume (about a quarter of the localbitcoins.com volume), but they also trade litecoin if you’re into that. You can leave standing orders, or just manually place one which is going to be matched instantly.
They seem like a small operation, based in Sydney, but my interactions with them have been friendly and fast.
Volume: Low (300k AUD/month)
Price Premium: $0 / BTC
Option 4: coinjar.io
I heard about this site from a well-circulated blog post on Commonwealth Bank closing their bank account last year. I didn’t originally consider them since they don’t promote themselves as an exchange, but you can use their filler to sell them bitcoins at a spot rate. It’s limited to $4000 per day according to their FAQ.
They have an online ID check, using the usual sources which didn’t quite work for me due to out-of-date electoral information, but they cleared that manually within a day. They deposit 1c into your bank account to verify it, but that hasn’t worked for me, so I’ve no way to withdraw my money and they haven’t responded to my query 5 days ago leaving me feeling nervous. A search of reddit points to common delays, and founder’s links to the hacked-and-failed Bitcoinica give me a distinct “magical gathering” feel. [Edit: they apparently tried and failed four times to transfer the 1c verification to my ING account; with 1-2 business day support response, this took quite a while. They never explained why this was failing. Using my wife’s CBA account worked however, and I got my funds the next day. Upgraded their score from 4/10 to 5/10.]
Volume: Unknown (self-reports indicate ~250k/month?)
Price Premium: $0 / BTC
Charge: 1.1% (selling) 2% (buying)
If you trade, I’d love to hear corrections, comments etc. or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.