The wildly popular, hard-to-understand, decentralized, digital currency known as Bitcoin probably hasn’t been on your radar long.
Most Americans are just now learning about Bitcoin and hearing stories about early investors who hit the crypto-lottery.
“They kept mentioning this thing called Bitcoin,” said 19-year-old Sean, from Washington County.
NBC 10 News has chosen to conceal Sean’s identity because of the large amount of money he claims to have made from Bitcoin.
“It was like a craigslist transaction, it was pretty sketchy,” he said.
Sean said he was just 14 years old when he first learned about Bitcoin on internet forums. Back then, the digital currency backed by strings of internet code was only worth a few dollars, so he made an investment.
“I took all the savings I had, which was $1,500, that was all Christmas and birthday money,” said Sean, also adding, “Once Bitcoin started making the news, I was like, ‘Oh, wait, I have a lot of those.'”
Sean told NBC 10 that by the time he cashed out December he had amassed thousands of Bitcoins, with each worth $18,500 at the time.
Financial experts say Bitcoin is risky because there’s no oversight — it’s unregulated and uninsured.
That also means there’s no real way for NBC 10 to verify Sean’s claims.
It might seem improbable that a $1,500 investment made just five years ago is now worth millions, but the value of Bitcoin has climbed so high in recent months that financial experts say it is possible.
“I think you have to view Bitcoin and all the other cryptocurrencies almost like a lottery ticket,” said Jason Siperstein, a certified financial planner at Elliot Rose Wealth Management. “I think it’s money that you can afford to lose, expect to lose, or are willing and able to lose, but I wouldn’t risk a significant amount on these cryptocurrencies.”
Siperstein said risky stories like Sean’s have piqued investors’ interest, but with such wild fluctuations in value, and nothing tangible backing cryptocurrency, he’s advising clients to steer clear.
“I think there’s a little bit of silliness going on in the market right now, and you know in the short term, I think everything is really consumer sentiment, you know psychology,” said Siperstein. “But in the long run, I think valuation and real application and use are better ways to determine valuation.”
“It’s not a gamble, but it’s definitely a much larger risk than investing in more orthodox securities like stocks and bonds, and whatnot,” said Sean.
Even with a potential fortune sitting in his digital wallet, Sean said, right now, his only plan is to continue living like a college student.
“I’m definitely graduating,” said Sean. “A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, you should just drop out,’ but no, I don’t really want to do that.”
Sean said he moved most of that Bitcoin money into smaller cryptocurrencies, or “altcoins,” and tripled his fortune in recent weeks.