I put euros, I withdraw Bitcoins. An afternoon at the crypto-ATM

In the Esquilino district, a few steps from Rome’s Termini station, residents have noticed a particular presence. We are in Via Emanuele Filiberto. Those who pass in front of it cannot fail to notice it. The reaction is automatic. The eyes immediately fall on the sign. Where there is written, in large print, that strange word, recently on everyone’s lips: Bitcoin. Yes, even in Italy, there are branches where you can withdraw the most famous cryptocurrency in the world. As if they were ATMs. These are Bitcoin ATMs, and in the capital there are at least 3. In all of Italy, according to the latest data available, there are more than 70. Where are they located? Especially in big cities. Or in very special places, such as the Bitcoin counter in Livigno, a stone’s throw from the Swiss border, in the province of Sondrio. But only because that territory enjoys the status of a duty free zone. Matter of taxes.

In reality, their installation is proceeding slowly. Especially if we compare the Italian numbers with those of other countries. On Finbold, you can find updated data. The vast majority of branches are concentrated in North America (over 26,000, ie 93.5% of the machines installed in the world). The others are almost all in Europe (4.5%). Numbers irrelevant, however, in Africa and Latin America. In China they are even banned. A Western phenomenon only? For now, yes. One thing is certain: as Finbold points out, the increasing spread of Bitcoin ATMs (in 2021, over 10 thousand new ATMs were installed in the world) is closely linked to the explosion of the cryptocurrency phenomenon.

In Italy, however, it was said, things are slow: the installations of crypto-ATMs are even under the lens of the Bank of Italy. According to what the Financial Information Unit of Via Nazionale writes in the annual report of 2021, “further analyzes focused on the phenomenon of the purchase / sale of cryptocurrencies through ATM devices, installed at the commercial premises of Italian companies operating on behalf of a foreign VASP (entity that manages crypto-assets, ed). In such cases, substantial payments of cash are recorded on the company accounts, inconsistent with the economic profile of the activity carried out (small retail shops), followed by transfers abroad in favor of the VASP “. And again: “A picture of difficult control of the phenomenon of ‘crypto-ATMs’ emerges, due to the potential capillarity of the participating businesses and the absence of regulation of the service”. In short, these ATMs lend themselves easily to small ‘dirty’ cash laundering operations.

Luca Bianco, Huffington Post Italy

An example? In 2020, the Polish company Shitcoins, which installs hundreds of ATMs across Europe – including one in Rome – was blocked by German supervisory authorities. In Germany, to manage cryptocurrencies, you must have authorization, because cryptocurrencies are equated to financial instruments there. In Italy, however, the ATMs of the Polish company can safely remain open. With no particular rules to be respected: to use the counter – and therefore to load or withdraw money – there is no need to provide your identity. A godsend for anyone who does not want to leave traces and clean up money in peace.

“I don’t know what others are doing with it, but I only come to top up my wallet (digital wallet where cryptocurrencies are stored, ed) ”One of the patrons of the ATM in Via Filiberto tells HuffPost. Very young – he will be just over twenty years old – Michele is just one of the many Italian guys and not only those who are passionate about the world of cryptocurrencies. On the other hand, in times of bubble – the value of Bitcoin continues to rise – he should invest in the coin designed by Satoshi Nakamoto. “A lot of people come. Especially in the last month … ”tells us a Pakistani shopkeeper who has his business right next to the ATM. “Italians and foreigners, but all young”.

Sitting at the tables of the nearby Chinese bar, it is possible to notice a large turnout, especially in the late afternoon. But the doubt arises spontaneously: if Bitcoin is a digital currency, which does not physically exist, what do those who use the counter withdraw? “You connect your phone, where you have your wallet, with the ATM and sell the Satoshi in exchange for current currency”. Satoshi are the ‘cents’ of Bitcoin. 1 Bitcoin = 100 million Satoshi. “Once the operation is over, collect the euro banknotes” explains Michele. “You can also do the opposite operation. Put the euro in the ATM and top up your wallet with Satoshi “.

It seems very convenient, especially for those who want to quickly change ‘dirty’ money. “Well … thanks to the functioning of the Blockchain, you can remain anonymous when you exchange euros for cryptocurrency. But don’t believe that there are who knows what money spins at this ATM. Also because there is a daily spending ceiling, which is between 1000 and 2000 euros “. Figures from small trades, at most.

But Michele says nothing more about this. After talking to him, the reporter stayed another hour stationed at the bar opposite. And in just under sixty minutes he saw 3 other people arrive. All very young. But unlike Michele, they didn’t really want to talk. A great little ‘crowd’, for a cryptocurrency that doesn’t physically exist.