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What is virtual currency?

The Concept of Virtual Currency

Virtual currency—often termed digital currency—is a type of unregulated digital currency that is typically controlled by its creators or developers, utilized by specific virtual communities, and not issued by a central bank. Notably, these currencies are denoted in the digital ecosystem. An example of a well-known digital currency is Bitcoin. Before diving deeper into the layers of digital currencies, it is crucial to understand the basic terminology surrounding them.

Understanding Digital Currencies

Digital currency can be considered as a larger set, representing different types of electronic monetary systems. Under its umbrella, we find two main categories—virtual currencies and cryptocurrencies. While the term virtual currency encompasses a broader area than cryptocurrencies, the latter is the most popular and commonly used type.

Virtual Currencies

Initially, virtual currencies were primarily used within online gaming environments and in social networks. They were referred to as “in-game currencies,” “virtual money,” or “tokens,” which players could earn through game play or by spending real money. An example is the gold in the game World of Warcraft.


Cryptocurrencies are a subset of virtual currencies that use cryptography for security, making them extremely difficult to counterfeit. Unlike other virtual currencies, most cryptocurrencies use a technology called blockchain for decentralized control, as opposed to centralized digital currencies and central banking systems. Bitcoin and Ethereum are popular examples of cryptocurrencies.

Legality and Regulation

The legality and regulatory compliance of virtual currencies vary greatly from country to country. Some countries, like Japan, have fully embraced cryptocurrencies and consider them a legal method of payment. Other countries, like India, have historically had a more tumultuous relationship with virtual currencies, trying to ban them at one point, though it has recently eased its stance.

Regulation can often seem at odds with the philosophy behind these currencies, given their decentralized nature. Nevertheless, many proponents believe that some regulation is necessary to prevent illegal activities and protect investors.

Regulatory Compliance

In the eyes of the law, virtual currencies are not considered “real” money. This characterization can lead to a grey area in terms of regulatory compliance. However, despite not being real money, tax laws may apply to these currencies, and users are obligated to comply. For example, in the United States, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) considers Bitcoin and other digital currencies property for tax purposes. Similarly, businesses that accept cryptocurrencies for goods and services are subject to income tax laws.

Investment Considerations

If you are considering investing in virtual currency, be aware of the volatility of the market. Cryptocurrencies, in particular, have been known to fluctuate wildly in value. This volatility could mean significant losses or gains.

Moreover, while many legitimate companies trade in these currencies, the relative anonymity and lack of regulation surrounding the sector also make it a breeding ground for scams. This uncertainty necessitates conducting meticulous due diligence before committing any funds.

As the field of virtual currency continues to evolve, we can expect legal and regulatory guidance to adapt accordingly. As an investor or trader, it’s crucial to stay updated and informed about these changes to remain compliant and make the most of your investments in the rapidly changing landscape of the virtual currency market.