Virtual currencies are online payment systems that may function as real currencies but are not issued or backed by central governments. As demonstrated by recent events, virtual currencies present regulators with significant challenges. On May 23, 2013, the U.S. federal government brought an indictment against the operators of Liberty Reserve, a popular virtual currency, charging the operators with money laundering and operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business. The same month, the Government Accountability Office ("GAO") made public a report exploring the potential tax-compliance risks associated with virtual currencies and economies. Legislators have also taken particular interest in one type of virtual currency-Bitcoin. On August 13, 2013, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security announced plans to start an inquiry aimed at establishing a regulatory framework for Bitcoin. This short Essay describes the mechanisms by which "cryptocurrencies"-a subcategory of virtual currencies-could replace tax havens as the weapon-of-choice for tax-evaders. I argue that it is reasonable to expect this shift to occur in the foreseeable future due to the contemporary convergence of two unrelated, yet parallel, processes.
The first process is the increasing popularity of cryptocurrencies, of which Bitcoin is the most widely recognized example. Unlike other virtual currencies that are associated with the existence of a virtual economy-usually in computer games-cryptocurrencies "function as a unique currency with [their] own free-floating exchange." Over the past three years, Bitcoin gradually gained the confidence of consumers, retailers, and service providers, and it is now effectively functioning as a currency in the real world. In fact, in August 2013, Bitcoin was officially recognized as a legal form of tender in Germany. Only two weeks earlier, a federal judge ruled that for purposes of U.S. securities regulation, Bitcoin is indeed "money."