What is Bitcoin and is it safe?
Here are some of Martin’s answers from the live show, [along with additional notes from Martin in square brackets and italics – added in the cold light of day].
Martin said on The Martin Lewis Money Show: “Bitcoin is set up as a currency – a non-governmental currency – so you’re meant to be able to spend it, but I’m presuming you’re thinking of this not to spend but more as an investment, which is what most people are looking at.
“First of all is it safe? Well some people have lost money in their wallets. Like gold it can be stolen, and cryptocurrency is a bit like an equivalent to gold as it’s a store of value of what people are putting in. You have to be very careful.”
[More accurately, I should’ve said ‘many see Bitcoin as a store of value’. It doesn’t have an intrinsic value in its own right; it is only worth what people are willing to pay for it. Those who see it as a store of value do so as they believe others will always be willing to pay something for it.
For more on the fundamentals of this, see my 2017 blog Bitcoin: four things you need to know before investing (it’s somewhat out of date but it will help beginners to understand).
With Bitcoin and other types of cryptoassets you are unlikely to have access to the Financial Ombudsman Service or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) if something goes wrong.]
Can I make money investing in Bitcoin?
While Bitcoin’s value has recently soared to around £30,000, its value is extremely volatile and it has dropped to as low as around £300 in the past – so you shouldn’t invest if you can’t afford to lose the cash.
Martin said on The Martin Lewis Money Show: “As to whether it’s any good – I don’t talk about investing. The thing about investing – and Bitcoin is an investment – is that prices go up and prices go down. With Bitcoin they go up massively and they go down massively. And the reason for stressing that so much is that you can make a fortune but you may lose a fortune.”
[In the show I said the prior height for Bitcoin prices was two years ago, but things go quickly as you get older and it was actually in December 2017.]
He added on TV: “So if you can’t afford to lose the money that you put in then do not invest in it. It’s a gamble like all forms of stocks and shares and all forms of investment and putting money in gold. That’s your choice, but if you do it the right way the investment should work for you but it doesn’t mean you won’t lose money though.”
[Technically, it’s arguable whether Bitcoin is investing or just speculation – as investing usually includes the chance to generate income or accumulate, while speculation is a straight bet on the price of something. Yet that’s splitting hairs, either way it is a big risk. There’s no protection with Bitcoin, there’s no guarantee it will be worth money. Of course, if you buy and the price rockets, you could make big money. Whether that will happen or not no one knows.
Many people pushing Bitcoin will tell you things like “the fundamentals have changed”, “big investment firms are getting into it”, “there’s greater transactional demand” and indeed that may all be true. Yet it’s when they use that to say the price will keep rising that it moves into the realms of speculation. No-one has a crystal ball. There are no guarantees.
Once things are already known, in any speculative market, they are immediately factored into the price (or even factored in before that if it’s assumed it will happen). So go in with your eyes open and the understanding that you’re doing it hoping to gain, but in the knowledge you could lose some or all of your money.
It’s worth noting the financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), has since the programme aired also issued a warning saying that investing in cryptoassets, such as Bitcoin, or investments and lending linked to them, generally involves taking very high risks and that you “should be prepared to lose all your money”.]
BEWARE scam-ads which lie that Martin recommends Bitcoin
Fraudsters have wrongly used Fake Martin Lewis ads with his name and face on to promote cryptocurrencies but these are scams. Martin doesn’t do adverts – If you ever see one with his face or name on it, it is without permission. In fact, Martin sued social media site Facebook over these adverts and settled for £3 million, which he donated to charity.
Martin said on TV: “You’ll have seen adverts with me in for Bitcoin or Bitcoin trading. They are not Bitcoin, they are scams – don’t touch them – if you see my face in an advert it’s not true. Be incredibly careful to do your research and go for a legitimate source if you want your Bitcoin.”
[The point about doing your research is crucial. We don’t have a ‘How to buy Bitcoin’ guide on the site, as we don’t usually cover what to invest in. This story is only here because I get asked so many times about this topic; likely because people have seen the scam adverts. Never buy Bitcoin off an advert, do your reading, research it yourself – and if you want Bitcoin, ensure you’re buying it, and that no-one is selling it to you.]