What is Cryptocurrency & How Does It Work? 2023 Guide

Cryptocurrency, also known as crypto-currency or crypto, refers to any type of virtual or digital currency that uses cryptography to protect transactions. Cryptocurrencies use a decentralized system to track transactions and create new units rather than a central authority to issue or regulate them.

Key Takeaways

  • A cryptocurrency is a type of digital asset that relies on a network distributed across numerous computers. They are able to exist independently of governmental and other central authorities thanks to their decentralized structure.
  • Some experts believe blockchain and related technologies will disrupt many industries, including finance and law.
  • The benefits of cryptocurrencies include less expensive and quicker money transfers as well as decentralized systems that do not crash at a single point of failure.
  • The drawbacks of cryptocurrencies include their unstable prices, high energy requirements for mining, and use in illegal activities.

What is Cryptocurrency?

With cryptocurrency, transactions are verified digitally without the help of banks. It is a peer-to-peer system that enables anyone, anywhere to send and receive payments. Cryptocurrency payments only exist as digital entries to an online database that describe specific transactions, as opposed to being carried around as physical money and used for exchange in the real world. When you transfer cryptocurrency funds, the transactions are recorded in a public ledger. Digital wallets are used to store cryptocurrency.

The fact that it uses encryption to confirm transactions is how cryptocurrency got its name. This means that the storage, transmission, and recording of cryptocurrency data to public ledgers all involve sophisticated coding. Security and safety are the goals of encryption.

Founded in 2009 and still the most well-known cryptocurrency today, Bitcoin was the original. A large portion of cryptocurrency interest is in trading for financial gain, with speculators occasionally driving prices skyward.

How Does Cryptocurrency Work?

Blockchain, a distributed public ledger that is updated and maintained by currency holders, is the technology that underlies cryptocurrencies.

The process of “mining,” which involves using computer power to solve challenging mathematical problems in order to produce coins, is how cryptocurrency units are produced. Additionally, users have the option of purchasing the currencies from brokers, storing them in cryptographic wallets, and then using them to make purchases.

If you own cryptocurrency, you don’t own anything tangible. What you possess is a key that enables you to transfer a record or a unit of measurement between people without the help of a reliable third party.

Despite the fact that Bitcoin has been around since 2009, cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology applications are still at an early stage in terms of financial development, and more applications are anticipated in the future. In the future, the technology might be used to trade bonds, stocks, and other financial assets.

Cryptocurrency Examples

Numerous cryptocurrencies are available. Some of the best known include:


The first cryptocurrency and still the most widely traded was Bitcoin, which was established in 2009. The creator of the currency is widely thought to be Satoshi Nakamoto, a pseudonym for a person or group whose true identity is still unknown.

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Ethereum Classic:

A fork in the Ethereum blockchain led to the creation of Ethereum Classic. ETC was developed as a result of an ideological and technical split within the community, similar to many other blockchain forks.

Following the fork, the blockchains for ETC and ETH contained identical older blocks, but their later blocks diverged. Although Ethereum and Ethereum Classic once had a similar history, they are now two distinct cryptocurrencies.

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This currency is most comparable to bitcoin, but it has moved more quickly to develop new innovations, such as faster payments and processes to allow for more transactions.

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A distributed ledger system called Ripple was created in 2012. Ripple is a tool that can be used to track more than just cryptocurrency transactions. Its creators have collaborated with numerous banks and financial institutions.

Non-Bitcoin cryptocurrencies are collectively known as “altcoins” to distinguish them from the original.

How to Buy Cryptocurrency

You might be wondering how to purchase cryptocurrencies securely. Typically, there are three steps. These are:

Step 1: Choosing a platform

Choosing a platform to use is the first step. Generally, you can choose between a traditional broker or dedicated cryptocurrency exchange:

  • Traditional brokers. These are online brokers that provide methods for purchasing and selling cryptocurrencies as well as other financial assets like stocks, bonds, and ETFs. These platforms typically have lower trading fees but fewer crypto features.
  • exchanges for cryptocurrencies. There are numerous cryptocurrency exchanges to pick from, and they all provide access to a variety of cryptocurrencies, wallet storage, interest-bearing account options, and other features. A lot of exchanges levy asset-based fees.

When contrasting various platforms, take into account which cryptocurrencies are offered, the fees they levied, the security features they had, the storage and withdrawal options they provided, and any educational resources.

Step 2: Funding your account

You must fund your account in order to start trading after selecting your trading platform. The majority of cryptocurrency exchanges let users buy cryptocurrency using fiat (i.e., government-issued) currencies such as the Depending on the platform, users can use their debit or credit cards to purchase US Dollar, British Pound, or Euro.

Credit card purchases of cryptocurrencies are frowned upon, and some exchanges do not support them. Additionally, some credit card companies do not support cryptocurrency transactions. This is due to the fact that cryptocurrencies are very erratic, making it unwise to risk incurring debt for some assets or possibly having to pay expensive credit card transaction fees.

Additionally, ACH and wire transfers are accepted on some platforms. Depending on the platform, different payment methods are accepted, and deposits and withdrawals take longer. As well, different payment methods have different processing times for deposits.

Costs are a crucial aspect to take into account. These may include trading fees in addition to possible deposit and withdrawal transaction fees. It is important to do your research up front because fees will differ depending on the platform and payment method used.

Step 3: Placing an order

Using the web or mobile platforms of your broker or exchange, you can place an order. If you are planning to buy cryptocurrencies, you can do so by selecting “buy,” choosing the order type, entering the amount of cryptocurrencies you want to purchase, and confirming the order. The same process applies to “sell” orders.

There are additional ways to invest in cryptocurrencies. These include payment platforms like PayPal, Cash App, and Venmo that let users purchase, sell, or hold cryptocurrencies. In addition, there are the following investment vehicles:

  • Bitcoin trusts: With a standard brokerage account, you can purchase shares of Bitcoin trusts. These products offer retail investors access to cryptocurrencies via the stock market.
  • Bitcoin mutual funds: ETFs and mutual funds that invest in bitcoin are available.
  • Blockchain stocks or ETFs: Through blockchain businesses that are experts in the technology underlying cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrencies transactions, you can also indirectly invest in the cryptocurrency market. As an alternative, you can purchase the stocks or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) of businesses that utilize blockchain technology.

What’s best for you will depend on your risk tolerance and investment objectives.

How to Store Cryptocurrency

Once you’ve bought cryptocurrency, you need to store it securely to prevent theft or hacks. The private keys to your cryptocurrencies are typically stored in crypto wallets, which can be actual hardware or online software. You can easily store directly through the platform thanks to the wallet services offered by some exchanges. However, not all brokers or exchanges will automatically offer you wallet services.

There are different wallet providers to choose from. The terms “hot wallet” and “cold wallet” are used:

  • Hot wallet storage: “hot wallets” refer to crypto storage that uses online software to protect the private keys to your assets.
  • Cold wallet storage: Unlike hot wallets, which use online computing systems to securely store your private keys, cold wallets (also referred to as hardware wallets) use offline electronic devices.

Typically, hot wallets don’t impose fees, whereas cold wallets do.

What Can You Buy With Cryptocurrency?

A computer, a cup of coffee, or even expensive items like real estate could all be purchased using Bitcoin when it was first introduced as a means of daily transactions. Although more institutions are accepting cryptocurrencies, large transactions involving them are still uncommon, and that hasn’t quite happened yet. But you can still use cryptocurrency to purchase a huge range of goods from e-commerce websites. Here are some examples:

Technology and e-commerce sites:

A number of tech-related businesses, including newegg.com, AT&T, and Microsoft, accept cryptocurrency on their websites. A platform for online shopping called Overstock was one of the first to accept Bitcoin. It’s accepted by Home Depot, Rakuten, and Shopify as well.

Luxury goods:

Some upscale stores accept cryptocurrency as payment. Rolex, Patek Philippe, and other expensive watches are available through the online luxury store Bitdials in exchange for Bitcoin, for instance.


Some auto dealers already accept cryptocurrency as payment, ranging from high-end luxury dealers to mass-market brands.


AXA, a Swiss insurer, announced in April 2021 that it had started accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment for all of its insurance lines, with the exception of life insurance (due to regulatory issues). The US-based home and auto insurance broker Premier Shield Insurance also accepts Bitcoin for premium payments.

Use a cryptocurrency debit card, like BitPay in the US, to make purchases at businesses that don’t accept cryptocurrency directly.

Cryptocurrency Fraud and Cryptocurrency Scams

Sadly, there has been an increase in cryptocurrency crime. Cryptocurrency scams include:

Fake websites: Bogus websites with fake testimonials and cryptocurrency jargon promise enormous, guaranteed returns as long as you keep investing.

Virtual Ponzi schemes: Cryptocurrency scammers advertise fictitious investment opportunities in digital currencies and give the appearance of huge returns by paying off existing investors with funds from new investors. Before the perpetrators of one scam, BitClub Network, were charged in December 2019, they raised more than $700 million.

“Celebrity” endorsements: A virtual currency investment is promised to be multiplied by con artists posing as billionaires or well-known figures online, but they steal the money you send instead of doing as they say. They might spread rumors that a well-known investor is supporting a particular cryptocurrency using messaging apps or chat rooms. The con artists sell their holdings after they have induced investors to purchase and raised the price, which causes the value of the currency to fall.

Romance scams: The FBI issues a warning about a pattern in which con artists convince people they meet on dating apps or social media to invest in or trade in virtual currencies. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Centre fielded more than 1,800 reports of crypto-focused romance scams in the first seven months of 2021, with losses reaching $133 million.

Otherwise, scammers may set up fake exchanges or assume the identity of legitimate virtual currency traders in order to defraud people out of their money. False sales pitches for cryptocurrency-based individual retirement accounts constitute yet another crypto scam. Then there is straightforward cryptocurrency hacking, in which thieves enter the digital wallets where people store their virtual currency to take it.

Is Cryptocurrency Safe?

Blockchain technology is typically used to create cryptocurrencies. Blockchain describes the way transactions are recorded into “blocks” and time stamped. A digital ledger of cryptocurrency transactions is created as a result, which is difficult for hackers to alter despite being a fairly complicated, technical process.

Furthermore, two-factor authentication is necessary for transactions. To begin a transaction, for instance, you might be required to enter a username and password. You may then be required to enter an authentication code that was texted to your personal cell phone.

Although there are security measures in place, that does not mean cryptocurrencies cannot be hacked. Bitcoin start-ups have suffered significant losses as a result of several costly hacks. As two of the largest cryptocurrency hacks of 2018, hackers stole $534 million from Coincheck and $195 million from BitGrail.

Contrary to money backed by the government, the value of virtual currencies is solely determined by supply and demand. Due to these erratic swings, investors may experience sizeable gains or losses. Additionally, compared to traditional financial products like stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, cryptocurrency investments are subject to much less regulatory protection.

Four Tips to Invest in Cryptocurrency Safely

All investments have risk, according to Consumer Reports, but some experts think that cryptocurrency is one of the riskier investment options available today. These recommendations can assist you in making informed decisions if you intend to invest in cryptocurrencies.

Research exchanges:

Learn about cryptocurrency exchanges before making an investment. Over 500 exchanges are available for selection, according to estimates. Before making a decision, do some homework, read reviews, and consult with more seasoned investors.

Know how to store your digital currency:

When purchasing cryptocurrencies, you must store them. You may store it in a digital wallet or on an exchange. The benefits, technical requirements, and security of each type of wallet vary. Similar to exchanges, you should research your storage options before making an investment.

Diversify your investments:

Any sound investment strategy must incorporate diversification, and investing in cryptocurrencies is no exception. For instance, don’t invest all of your funds in Bitcoin just because you are familiar with the name. There are thousands of options, and it’s better to spread your investment across several currencies.

Prepare for volatility:

Because of the market’s extreme volatility, be ready for ups and downs. There will be sharp changes in price. Cryptocurrency might not be a wise choice for you if your investment portfolio or mental health can’t handle that.

Although cryptocurrency is currently very popular, keep in mind that it is still very new and is very speculative. Be ready for challenges when investing in something new. If you plan to participate, do your research, and invest conservatively to start.

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