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V16 2013 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 51, December 15, 2013, Article 14

U.S. GOVERNMENT SHUTS DOWN PHYSICAL BITCOIN MINTER

Back in October 2011 we published an article about the gentleman who was minting physical Bitcoins to compliment the electronic crypto-currency. It's taken a while for the Feds to catch up, but they've shut his operation down. Did any of our readers add one of these to their collection before the Bitcoin price skyrocketed? -Editor

MIke Caldwell bitcoin minter Mike Caldwell spent years turning digital currency into physical coins. That may sound like a paradox. But it’s true. He takes bitcoins — the world’s most popular digital currency — and then he mints them here in the physical world. If you added up all the bitcoins Caldwell has minted on behalf of his customers, they would be worth about $82 million.

Basically, these physical bitcoins are novelty items. But by moving the digital currency into the physical realm, he also prevents hackers from stealing the stuff via an online attack. Or at least he did. His run as the premiere bitcoin minter may be at an end. Caldwell has been put on notice by the feds.

Just before Thanksgiving, he says, he received a letter from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FINCEN, the arm of the Treasury Department that dictates how the nation’s anti-money-laundering and financial crime regulations are interpreted. According to FINCEN, Caldwell needs to rethink his business. “They considered my activity to be money transmitting,” Caldwell says. And if you want to transmit money, you must first jump through a lot of state and federal regulatory hoops Caldwell hasn’t jumped through.

Because the process is so complicated, Caldwell has stopped taking orders for his popular Casascius bitcoins — which have become one of the most recognizable images of the thoroughly intangible digital currency. In recent months, the feds have cracked down on many other bitcoin operations in similar ways, including Mt. Gox, the most prominent online bitcoin exchange. But Caldwell’s case is a little different. He doesn’t think he transmits money.

Caldwell doesn’t accept U.S. dollars or any type of fiat currency. You send him bitcoins via the internet, and he sends you back metal coins via the U.S. Postal Service. To spend bitcoins, you need a secret digital key — a string of numbers and letters — and when Caldwell makes the coins, he hides this key behind a tamper-resistant strip.

So long as you can keep your Casascius bitcoins safe, nobody can learn the key. To date, Caldwell has minted nearly 90,000 bitcoins in various denominations. That’s worth about $82 million at today’s exchange rate.

Caldwell takes a fee of about $50 on each coin he mints, but he argues that sending the coins through the mail is not a way of transmitting money. He thinks the coins should be viewed as collectibles.

But, clearly, that’s not how the federal government sees things. If he doesn’t verify or have a way of knowing whether the owner of the bitcoins is the same person he’s sending the coins to, that’s a problem, says Faisal Islam, the director of compliance advisory services with Centra Payments Solutions, a company that advises corporations on financial compliance.

To read the complete article, see: U.S. Government Nastygram Shuts Down One-Man Bitcoin Mint (www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2013/12/casascius/)

Dick Hanscom forwarded this related article from the Daily Mail. Thanks. -Editor

To read the complete article, see: Businessman who turns bitcoins into physical money shut down by federal government because it’s too easy to money launder (www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2523842/bitcoins.html)

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: BITCOINS GO FROM VIRTUAL TO PHYSICAL (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v14n45a22.html)

Kraljevich esylum9


Wayne Homren, Editor

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To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor at this address: whomren@gmail.com

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