Trust, Identity, and Disclosure: Are Bitcoin Exchanges the Next Virtual Havens for Money Laundering and Tax Evasion?
Sarah Michelle Gruber
Quinnipiac University School of Law
November 13, 2013
Sarah Gruber, Note, Trust, Identity, and Disclosure: Are Bitcoin Exchanges the Next Virtual Havens for Money Laundering and Tax Evasion?, 32 Quinnipiac L. Rev. 135 (2013)
This Note discusses the relationship of Bitcoins, a cyber-currency, to the Bank Secrecy Act and discusses money laundering and tax evasion. This Note highlights the use and potentially problematic implications of Bitcoins in commerce and discusses their current regulation by the government, both within the United States and internationally, to guard against these threats. This Note addresses the regulation of Bitcoin exchanges, the exchanges' vulnerability to cyber-attacks, and the value of trust to the users of Bitcoin exchanges. This Note concludes that well known exchanges that operate both within and outside the United States generally self-regulate in order to gain the trust of their users despite the cyber-attacks on exchanges in the past. This Note also addresses the tax-reporting implications of foreign Bitcoin exchanges, looking by analogy at attempts to gain information from known tax havens.
This Note argues that, given the applicability of the BSA to Bitcoin exchanges, the Bitcoin system poses serious questions relating to money laundering and tax reporting, mostly with regard to the less trustworthy exchanges known for their illegal activity. Some Bitcoin exchanges and e-wallets may also have the potential to become the next tax havens. Many exchanges voluntarily implement measures amounting to self-regulation in attempts to appear more trustworthy to wary consumers or in attempts to avoid criminal or civil sanctions. Whether this self-regulation is sufficient to achieve the goals of preventing money laundering and other criminal activity is debatable. Exchanges that have no need to appear trustworthy, however, still pose the same risks of money laundering and other illegal activity contemplated by the FBI. Moreover, ways exist in which criminals can work around the current regulatory scheme to achieve criminal goals; in that respect, the current regulatory scheme is ineffective to prevent the targeted criminal activity. This Note recommends a supplemental regulatory scheme that would target the areas that current regulation fails to address in combating money laundering, tax evasion, and other criminal activity.
Keywords: Bitcoins, virtual currency, money laundering, bank secrecy act, tax evasion, trust, cypher-punks, hacking, decentralized, peer-to-peer
JEL Classification: K34, K12, K14, K23, D71, G21, H26
Date posted: August 19, 2013 ; Last revised: July 18, 2015