Nearly half the public wants tighter regulations for the virtual currency bitcoin, according a poll published this week.
The Bloomberg poll showed that only 42 percent of people knew what bitcoin is, but, after a brief explanation about the money system, 45 percent think that it needs better regulation.
Bitcoins only exist online but can be used to buy conventional goods and services at a growing number of Internet and brick-and-mortar stores.
Supporters of the money system say it gives them more freedom, since payments can be transferred more easily than dollars.
But some regulators and others have expressed concern that the relatively anonymous nature of the money could be appealing to money launderers and criminals. In October, federal agents shut down the online marketplace Silk Road, which dealt in bitcoins and sold drugs and other illicit goods.
The public’s low familiarity in the Bloomberg poll underscored a general ignorance about the money that also pervades Washington.
In March, the Treasury Department’s Finance Crimes Enforcement Network issued guidance notifying bitcoin exchanges that they were subject to the same rules as traditional money changers, but regulators have been otherwise reluctant to wade too heavily into the digital currency arena.
Lawmakers who have probed bitcoins have expressed cautious optimism that the money could create new opportunities for innovation.
Bloomberg polled 1,004 adults from Dec. 6 to 9.