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U.S. Government to Sell Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash Seized from Cyber Criminal

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A U.S. federal judge in Utah has approved the auction of hundreds of units of bitcoin and bitcoin cash seized from a dark web dealer, CCN has learned. The sale will be part of a larger liquidation of assets belonging to convicted criminal Aaron Michael Shamo.

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Bitcoin Auction

There were 513 units of bitcoin and 512 bitcoin cash tokens in Shamo’s possession at the time of his conviction. All of them will be auctioned off, along with two automobiles. At current prices, the sale will amount to roughly $8.5 million.

Shamo was convicted on May 31, 2017 along with fellow dark web operators for several drug-related offences, including trafficking and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The official court document released by Utah district judge Dale Kimball indicated that it was too costly to store the seized cryptocurrencies for a prolonged period. Based on the court documents, storing the coins cost taxpayers $465 per month.

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The decision to liquidate the coins comes amid growing concerns over price volatility, with government officials seeking an imminent sale of the cryptocurrencies before they lose their value.  In October it was disclosed that the U.S. government lost nearly $2.4 billion on the sale of 144,336 bitcoins when the cryptocurrency was priced at just $336 a unit.

According to the official court document:

“The vehicles [bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash] have been seized and are in the custody and control of the United States Marshals Service. Every month, the USMS is accruing $465/month in storage fees for these vehicles. The total expenses for these two vehicles currently is $5,010.70. The BTC and BCH have been transferred to a Government wallet. Due to the volatile market for cryptocurrencies, the BTC and BCH risk losing value during the pendency of the forfeiture proceedings.”

Once considered the exclusive domain of dark web criminality, bitcoin has catapulted into the mainstream over the last 12 months. The price explosion has drawn the attention of various levels of government, from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to the District Court system.

Although bitcoin remains a popular cryptocurrency in the criminal underworld, altcoins with stronger privacy features are gaining prominence. Coins such as Monero, Zcash and Ethereum are becoming more popular among cyber criminals. Zcash appears to have the best privacy protection among the three, which analysts say could generate higher adoption among criminals in the future.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.5 stars on average, based on 453 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he specializes in cryptocurrency, economics and the broader financial markets. Sam has nearly eight years of progressive experience as an analyst, writer and financial market commentator where he has contributed to the world's foremost newscasts.




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Chinese President Xi Jinping Comes to Terms With Blockchain

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Chinese President Xi Jinping may not like cryptocurrencies, but he is a fan of the blockchain. For a nation that has cracked down on the cryptocurrency industry more than any other jurisdiction, as evidenced by a ban on initial coin offerings (ICOs) and bitcoin trading in the mainland as well as a target on bitcoin mining, the process by which more coins are created, his acceptance of the blockchain is surprisingly refreshing. He reportedly said:

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“A new generation of technology represented by artificial intelligence, quantum information, mobile communications, internet of things and blockchain is accelerating breakthrough applications.”

While President Xi Jinping’s celebration of the blockchain is juxtaposed by the country’s intolerance for cryptocurrencies, it’s a step in the right direction. He said he wants China to “become the global center” for technological innovation.

China has seemingly been able to separate the blockchain from cryptocurrencies considering that in spite of the broader ban in Beijing blockchain startups and government officials have been working together to unlock the potential of the technology in the region, as CNBC reported. Meanwhile, as anecdotal evidence, hundreds of Chinese locals attended a recent blockchain conference in the United States where a pair of sessions were given in Mandarin.

But Bobby Lee, who is the co-founder of China’s maiden bitcoin exchange BTCC, which has since rebranded and whose China trading capabilities have been shuttered, suggests that the lines surrounding blockchain technology often get blurred.

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Technological Revolution

President Xi Jinping in his speech to the Chinese Academies of Sciences and Engineering acknowledged the feverish pace at which technological innovation has been unfolding in the 21st century, saying: “A new round of scientific and industrial revolution is reconstructing the global innovation map and reshaping the global economic structure.”

But in key ways, Xi has shut the door to that innovation by clamping down on what once comprising the lion’s share of bitcoin trading. But if you ask Lee, he reportedly believes that at some point, the ban on bitcoin trading will be eased and China could adopt a licensing process, he’s just not sure when.

Blockchain pioneers including the likes of Wences Casares and Joseph Lubin have offered perspective on cryptocurrencies that might serve Xi well, with Lubin recently saying that “cryptocurrencies should remain unfettered” as it relates to regulation. Casares, the CEO of blockchain startup Xapo, once described the harmony in which the blockchain and bitcoin are designed to operate, saying: “If you were to remove the bitcoin, miners would disappear and so would the blockchain.”

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.5 stars on average, based on 15 rated postsGerelyn has been covering ICOs and the cryptocurrency market since mid-2017. She's also reported on fintech more broadly in addition to asset management, having previously specialized in institutional investing. She owns some BTC and ETH.




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Financial Freedom

Considerations For Choosing An Immediate Annuity

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When it comes time to retire, one method for receiving income from your savings is to purchase an immediate annuity. The purpose of an immediate annuity is to provide a regular payment over a certain period of time or over the investor’s lifetime.

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An immediate annuity can preserve a minimum level of income that you cannot outlive. Allocating a portion of your retirement money to an option that will provide income for life can make sense for many retirees.

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So how does an investor decide what immediate annuity to purchase?

The scenarios discussed in this article apply in the United States. Readers are encouraged to consult their accountants about tax considerations related to buying annuities.

It’s also important to consider that when earnings from an annuity are withdrawn, they will be taxed as ordinary income, no matter how long the owner has owned the account.

Different Types Of Immediate Annuities

Steve Vernon, a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, writing for CBS News’ “Money Watch,” noted that immediate annuities can be fixed, inflation adjusted and variable and guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit (GLWB). GLWB combines the features of traditional annuities and systematic withdrawals.

Once you purchase a fixed or inflation adjusted immediate annuity, your payout is locked in, Vernon noted. Your payments will not be adjusted based on changes in capital markets.

The monthly payout on a variable annuity, by contrast, will change based on the annuity’s stock and bond portfolio. The owner can modify the portfolio even after they start receiving payments. Vernon recommends keeping the stock allocation between one third and two thirds.

When shopping for GMWB annuities, Vernon recommends annuities with management fees around 50 basis points or lower, and insurance fees round 100 basis points.

Vernon encourages people to use online annuity purchase services like www.immediateannuities.com and Income Solutions and Immediateannuities.com to compare different immediate annuities.

Immediate Fixed Annuity Considerations

Steve Goldberg, an investment adviser writing in Kiplinger, thinks of an immediate fixed annuity as term life insurance in reverse, the longer you live, the better you do.

The insurance company pools the premiums from thousands of its annuities and invests them primarily in bonds. The company also makes educated guesses about how long its annuity buyers will live. It then makes monthly payments to policyholders each month based upon both expected longevity and expected investment returns.

In today’s low-interest-rate environment, that’s much better than an investor can do in all but the riskiest bonds, according to Goldberg. It’s also likely better than an investor can do if he put all his money into stocks.

But there is a catch: With an annuity, you don’t get your money back, unless the buyer opts for what’s known as a “certain period annuity” or similar option. Additional features, however, usually bring additional costs.

Goldberg believes immediate fixed annuities usually make sense only for retirees. The older the retiree, the fewer years the insurance company will have to pay the benefits – so the bigger the monthly checks.

Immediate annuities seldom make sense for all of an investor’s money, Goldberg notes.

Like Vernon, Goldberg suggests going to ImmediateAnnuities.com to compare different immediate annuities. Plug in the state you live in, your age and your gender, and the website provides quotes from numerous companies.

How Immediate Annuities Are Bought

There are three typical ways to purchase immediate annuities, according to Rich White, a financial writer writing in Investopedia.

One method is the annuitization of a tax-deferred annuity. The purpose of a tax-deferred annuity, unlike an immediate annuity, is to build funds to create an income stream at a later date. Most tax-deferred annuities permit the account to be converted at some point in time to a guaranteed income stream.

Another method is the lump sum payment, in which the investor’s funds are transferred to an insurance company to purchase a revenue stream. Oftentimes, the investor is using cash from a retirement plan distribution, lottery winnings or an award from a personal injury settlement.

A third method is the terminal funding of a retirement plan. Some retirement plans offer annuity payouts. The plan in this case terminates its liability to the participant by transferring the participant’s funds to an insurance company. When retirement plans “pay out” in this manner, a “qualified immediate” annuity of offered for tax efficiency.

These choices all present options. The owner of a tax-deferred annuity who wants to annuitize is not limited to the payout offered by the insurance company, White notes. The policyholder can shop payouts offered by competing companies and conduct a tax-free transfer to the company offering the best terms. This is known as a Section 1035 exchange.

If a retirement plan offers a particular insurance company for terminal funding, the policyholder can shop for others and select the plan they find most suitable.

An annuity payout over a fixed number of years that is purchased with a single sum can be converted to an annual interest rate equivalent, White noted.

If, for example, the policyholder is quoted an annuity of $600 per month for 20 years in exchange for paying a premium of $10,000, an annuity rate calculator will find this payout converts to an annual interest rate of 3.96%. This rate can then be compared to other fixed-period annuity payouts, perhaps over longer or shorter periods, and also to rates available on bonds, money market funds or CDs.

For a lifetime annuity payout, there is no fixed period to evaluate. Death could occur at any time, and the payments would discontinue. White recommends a good starting point is to use the annuitant’s life expectancy as the payout period.

If a 67-year-old female is offered a lifetime payment of $600 per month for a $100,000 premium, her life expectancy would be 17.67 years, based on the 2007 Period Life Table published by the Social Security Administration.

Immediate Annuity Payout Options

One payout option for immediate annuities is income for a guaranteed period, which is also called “certain period annuity,” according to CNN Money, as noted in a previous article on annuities’ role in financial planning. This guarantees a specific payment for a specific time period. If the owner dies before the period ends, their beneficiary receives the remainder of the payments.

Another option is lifetime payments that guarantee a payout for the owner as long as they are alive, but there is no survivor benefit. The payouts can be variable or fixed, depending on the type of annuity selected. The amount of the payout depends on the amount invested and the owner’s life expectancy.

Still another payout option is life with a guaranteed period certain benefit, also known as “life with certain period.” The owner receives a guaranteed payout for life along with a period certain phase. If the owner dies during the certain period, the beneficiary continues to receive the payment for the remainder of that period.

Joint and survivor annuity is one in which the beneficiary continues receiving payments for the rest of their life after the owner dies.

Do Your Homework

It is important to buy an annuity from a company that holds a top credit rating from the three leading agencies of U.S. insurance companies: A.M. Best, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.

The considerations for shopping for an immediate annuity are extensive. Investors must spend their time comparing options. Many retirees will find it worth their time to work with a financial adviser.

Those who seek the assistance of an insurance agent must keep in mind that insurance agents are paid commissions by the insurance companies offering the annuities. Investors have the option of working with a non-commissioned financial adviser.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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3.9 stars on average, based on 8 rated postsLester Coleman is a veteran business journalist based in the United States. He has covered the payments industry for several years and is available for writing assignments.




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Binance Denies Being Hacked, as CEO Confirms “All Funds are Safe”

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The head of Binance has officially denied rumors that the exchange was hacked on Wednesday, claiming that “irregular trades” have now been fixed. Speculation that the exchange might have been hacked triggered a sharp reversal in the fortunes of most major cryptocurrencies.

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No Hack

The company’s CEO Changpeng Zhao reassured traders Wednesday that their accounts had not been compromised.

“We have localized the irregular trades, they will be reversed. All funds are safe, thanks to the fast alarm. Please learn to secure your accounts against phishing,” he tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

Users took to Reddit, Twitter and other social media channels on Wednesday to report highly suspicious activity on their Binance accounts. Several traders reported that their altcoins were suddenly liquidated without prior warning or consent. Oddly enough, the loss of altcoins was associated with a massive spike in Viacoin (VIA), a relatively obscure cryptocurrency that more tripled in value on Wednesday.

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Following the reports, Binance quickly froze trading and withdrawals to investigate the matter further. The loss of coins seems to inflict accounts with registered API keys, which are used to enable trading bots. The exchange issued a follow-up statement informing traders that the Binance platform had not been compromised:

“As of this moment, the only confirmed victims have registered API keys (to use with trading bots or otherwise). There is no evidence of the Binance platform being compromised.

Please remain patient and we will provide an update as quickly as possible.”

Fears of a coordinated cyber breach made for a highly turbulent session in the crypto markets. The total value of all crypto assets briefly plunged by more than 10% as traders rushed to exit their positions.

Cyber Security Remains a Major Concern

Crypto exchanges are routinely the target of sophisticated cyber attacks, a trend expected to intensify as digital currencies rise in value. Attackers have already made off with billions of dollars worth of stolen cryptocurrencies over the years.

It was just last month that Japan’s Coincheck was drained of $500 million in NEM after hackers successfully redirected the coins into alternate account. The heist was the biggest the market had ever seen, surpassing the 2014 attack of Mt Gox.

Exchanges have stepped up their security guidelines in response to the wave of attacks. This includes adopting stricter KYC/AML requirements and reminding users how to better safeguard their accounts.

Hacking attempts aren’t just limited to exchanges. It has been estimated that roughly 10% of all ICO funds have been compromised by cyber criminals. With billions flowing into the ICO market, that’s no small number.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.5 stars on average, based on 453 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he specializes in cryptocurrency, economics and the broader financial markets. Sam has nearly eight years of progressive experience as an analyst, writer and financial market commentator where he has contributed to the world's foremost newscasts.




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