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Collapse of exchange spells trouble for bitcoin

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TOKYO — The sudden disappearance of one of the largest bitcoin exchanges intensifies the mystery and mistrust surrounding the virtual currency, which was just beginning to gain legitimacy beyond the technology enthusiasts and adventurous investors who created it.

Prominent bitcoin supporters said the apparent collapse of the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox exchange was an isolated case of mismanagement that will weed out ‘‘bad actors.’’ But the setback raised serious questions about bitcoin’s tenuous status and even more tenuous future. At least one supporter said the blow could be fatal to bitcoin’s quest for acceptance by the public.

A coalition of virtual currency companies said Mt. Gox went under after secretly racking up catastrophic losses. The exchange had imposed a ban on withdrawals earlier this month.

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