As its price has skyrocketed in recent weeks, investors have rushed to buy into bitcoin, despite fears the unregulated cryptocurrency’s bubble could burst.
One Hong Kong man, though, had a nobler intention when he rushed to a Mong Kong bitcoin ATM on the weekend — to save a woman he had met via an online dating app after she claimed she had been kidnapped and needed to pay a ransom.
Alas, his virtual romance appears to have been as genuine as the kidnapping, and the 31-year-old lost about HK$100,000 (about US$12,800) worth of the cryptocurrency in what police are now treating as a scam.
The Standard reported that after several months of chatting online the victim, surnamed Wong, received a phone call from the woman claiming she’d been kidnapped and needed to pay for her freedom with the untraceable cryptocurrency.
After purchasing the bitcoin at the ATM, Wong then transferred it to a bank account as directed.
According to Apple Daily, he contacted police midnight on Sunday after realising he’d been tricked by his online companion with whom who he’d been chatting with “fondly” but had not met.
Police classified the incident as obtaining property by deception and the case was handed to the Wong Tai Sin District Investigation Team.
The case came amid a recent surge in the price of bitcoin ahead of its debut on a major global exchange yesterday, which AFP reported was “muted”.
The cryptocurrency opened 2017 at around US$1,000, surged past US$10,000 for the first time last month, and soared as high as US$17,000 last week.
Yesterday trading on a futures contract for bitcoin began on the Chicago board options exchange (Cboe) at a price of US$15,000.
It rose briefly to US$16,600 before settling at US$15,900 by 2340 GMT, well short of highs in excess of US$17,000 on alternative non-regulated online platforms last week.
A futures contract is a financial product that allows investors to bet on whether the currency’s price will rise or fall.
The Cboe debut is expected to be followed a week later by a rival listing on Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
It marks the first opportunity for professional traders to invest in bitcoin, even as some steer away because of a lack of regulations surrounding the currency.
The two launches were made possible after a key US regulator, the Commodities and Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), gave the green light to the exchanges on December 1, while warning “of the potentially high level of volatility and risk in trading these contracts.”
The embrace by mainstream exchanges of bitcoin futures marks a sea change from the days when the digital currency was associated with drug dealing and other illicit activities.
Still, plenty of key figures in and around markets are taking a cautious approach to bitcoin, which has no central bank backing it, and no legal exchange rate.
The Futures Industry Association, which includes some of the world’s biggest derivatives brokerages, criticized the CFTC’s move in a letter to the regulator, saying contracts are being rushed through without properly weighing the risks.