First U.S. Bitcoin ATM comes to Austin

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by HEATHER KOVAR / KVUE News and Photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @HeatherK_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on February 20, 2014 at 7:20 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 20 at 8:19 PM

AUSTIN -- Creators established the online, often controversial currency called Bitcoin in 2009. Now five years later, people are lining up to buy and trade it in Austin.

On Thursday, organizers unveiled the United States' first Bitcoin ATM machine in HandleBar on East Fifth Street.

"This is the first Bitcoin ATM in the United States,” said Reza Piri.

Piri is a local web developer and bought the machine for $20,000 from a company in Las Vegas called Robocoin. Like a traditional ATM, he makes money on transactions.

"This is really taking it to the main street, where people can access it, and get Bitcoins for cash 24/7,” said Piri.

Users let KVUE tape transactions. They claim identities can't be stolen.

In order to access, you first set up an ATM account to link to your Bitcoin account. That takes a government I.D., your phone and a vein scan of your hand, not prints.

"It's not as simple as downloading an app and taking on these digital currencies,” said Chris Humphreys, CEO and director of the Anfield group, a cyber security firm based in Austin.

He said it's a great idea to have a digital currency, but has some security concerns. He also warned if you have trouble keeping up with things like passwords, getting involved in Bitcoin may not be for you.

"You have to understand things like private key, encryption, your digital signature, how to manage that,” said Humphreys.

"The legal ramifications around it, in some countries they don't accept it, that's fine. But here in the U.S., we are finding a way to put order around the chaos,” said Piri.

About a year ago, the U.S. Treasury issued guidelines for businesses using Bitcoin and other online currencies.

"Plenty of people have lost money, but more people have actually made money,” said one enthusiastic user. "I exchange cash for Bitcoin. It's pretty awesome."

Handlebar doesn’t take Bitcoin yet, but several bars are set to announce they will begin accepting the currency. There are also several local restaurants that take Bitcoin. Overstock.com also takes Bitcoin.

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