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Bitcoin: More people know about it, but they aren't using it

Over half of people in a recent survey had heard of Bitcoin and other digital currencies, but only 3 percent reported actually using them. Bitcoin use was hampered by volatility and security concerns. 

Benoit Tessier/Reuters/File
A Bitcoin (virtual currency) coin is seen in an illustration picture taken at La Maison du Bitcoin in Paris. Only 3 percent of respondents in a recent survey reported having used a form of digital currency.

Familiar with digital money but don’t plan to touch it? Plenty of people feel the same way. More than half of Americans have heard of virtual currencies like Bitcoin, but most – 65% – say they don’t expect to use it any time soon, if ever, a survey shows.

Only 3% of respondents said they had actually bought or used digital money, according to the Massachusetts Division of Banks and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, which released the poll results. While 51% said they had heard of virtual currencies, awareness varied sharply by income levels and other demographic factors, such as age and gender.

Most said they learned about Bitcoin and similar Internet-born scrip through the Web or from television. Women were far less likely to have heard of the currencies than men, 38% to 64%, while 70% of people living in households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more knew about it compared with 43% in less wealthy homes. Fewer of those in higher income households indicated a willingness to buy or use it – 11% – than in poorer, at 19%. The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently added virtual currencies to a watchlist of potential subjects for future regulation.

Concerns over security, value and risk of loss ranked among the top reasons for reluctance to touch virtual currencies. Promoters of Bitcoin and other forms of digital cash tout lower transaction costs as well as values that aren’t tied to a single nation or region’s economy, such as the U.S. dollar or the European euro. Mt. Gox, the failed Tokyo-based Bitcoin exchange, made headlines around the world earlier this year when it announced the loss of about $400 million of the virtual currency. Bitcoin values can change rapidly – it touched $951 in January and fell to $360 in April before recovering to about $500 this month, figures from Coindesk show.

Better understanding

“State regulators welcome innovations that lead to greater choice and lower costs, but we also want to understand any consumer and marketplace risks as we evaluate the overall benefits of virtual currencies,” David J. Cotney, the Massachusetts bank commissioner, said in a release about the study.

Younger adults indicated a greater willingness to buy and use digital money – 43% of those aged 18 to 24 versus 8% of those 55 or over, the survey showed. In all, 18% of respondents – including more blacks and Latinos than whites – said they were at least somewhat likely to buy and use Bitcoin and other forms of the digital scrip.

The online survey polled 1,014 pre-recruited adults in May, so doesn’t have a margin of error for its results, according to the organizations that released it.

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