Datablog

Cryptocurrency CFPB Complaints Rise as Prices Fall

The price fall of Bitcoin ushered in a surge of consumer complaints received by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) over financial issues with Coinbase. We took a look at complaints received between June 1, 2017 and March 1, 2018 and were able to make some interesting observations.

Last December the value of Bitcoin (BTC) climbed to around $19.5k, shattering record highs. The unexpected increase sparked a digital-gold rush, generating media coverage and broader public interest into the world of cryptocurrencies. Unfortunately for eager investors and traders, the three month long trend eventually came to an end and the value of BTC began to fall. The price fall ushered in a surge of consumer complaints received by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) over financial issues with Coinbase, a large cryptocurrency exchange headquartered in San Francisco, CA. We took a look at complaints received between June 1, 2017 and March 1, 2018 and were able to make some interesting observations.

Key Takeaways

  • Consumer complaints surged as Bitcoin prices crashed. Complaints submitted to the CFPB boil down to technical issues with the exchange platform Coinbase and accusations of fraud.
  • Money being unavailable was the number one complaint. Consumers struggled to transfer and trade their cryptocurrencies at a critical time. Complaints spiked to a climax during the week where price decline was steepest.
  • High transaction volumes led to wire transfer and transaction delays. Customer support was difficult to reach for consumers.

Weekly Coinbase Complaints vs Bitcoin Pricing

Coinbase Complaints vs Bitcoin Pricing

Higher numbers of complaints rolled in just as prices started crashing, reaching a climax during the week of sharpest descent. Even then, BTC prices didn’t fall anywhere near where they were in the earlier half of 2017, but the data shows an array of negative experiences for consumers struggling to manage their coins when it mattered the most. These complaints bring to light the technical issues, nuances, and risks involved in the volatile world of cryptocurrency trading. As many consumers learned during the crash, technical setbacks can end up costing you precious time, money, and peace of mind and whether or not you’re a careful trader may not matter in the face of mishaps that are out of your control.

Consumer Complaint Narratives

Reading through some narratives painted a woeful image of consumers struggling to transfer funds from their digital wallets and, in some cases, having their accounts frozen or locked up during the panicked period of declining prices. Out of the 2,271 consumer complaints we looked at, most were concerned with their money not being available at an expected time. The other two leading categories were related to transaction problems and fraud or scam complaints.

Top 5 Coinbase Complaints

Top 5 Coinbase Complaints

On December 18, 2017 one consumer wrote, “Coinbase is a fraud. They state on their website withdrawal timeline for wires as 1 business day. Upon making the withdrawal, I have received the email stating that the wire might be delayed three business days.” Coincidentally, Coinbase posted a notice three days earlier stating that long delays could be expected due to high transaction volumes. Others were a little more explicit in their blame, with one consumer outright accusing Coinbase of theft, writing “It has been eight days since my $1000 deposit has been withdrawn from my checking account, but it [was] never confirmed by Coinbase. Coinbase simply stole $1000 from me.”

Weekly Coinbase Complaints by Top Issues

Weekly Coinbase Complaints

Wire transfer delays continued from December 15, 2017 until January 13, 2018, but were also accompanied by transaction delays between January 4 and 9 earlier this year, during the period of steepest descent in BTC prices. It was during this time period when the CFPB received a whopping 358 complaints about Coinbase in a single week. One particular consumer’s narrative reads, “[…] my sell order rejected because they shut down the exchange due to a computer glitch on their behalf. I lost out on a sale of about $100,000. I came back the next day to find the price crashed […].” Falling prices were accompanied by increased trading frequencies as users scrambled to cash out and cut their losses, which couldn’t have helped in shortening Coinbase’s backlog during the ordeal.

Complaints submitted to the CFPB have two main ways of closing, either with some form of relief provided by the company in question, or with an explanation for the issue. All closed complaints that we looked at were closed with an explanation from the company. However, many consumers emphasized their difficulties in getting in touch with Coinbase’s customer support team, with one account noting “[...] their customer service is illusory at best.” The CFPB was able to at least help consumers receive timely explanations for their individual issues.

Methodology

Complaints were retrieved from the CFPB’s consumer complaint database and bitcoin historical prices were retrieved from coinmarketcap.com. The CFPB’s database is updated frequently and all information used in this study is based on data which was retrieved on March 12, 2018 at 9:40 AM. Of the 2,271 complaints we looked at between June 1, 2017 and March 1, 2018, only 42.9% of them had provided consumer complaint narratives at the time of acquisition.

David Ascienzo

David Ascienzo, Ph.D., is a Data Scientist at ValuePenguin. He previously was a Doctoral Researcher in Physics at the City University of New York (CUNY). He holds a Ph.D. in Physics from the CUNY Graduate Center.