Cryptocurrency and crime

15th July 2021

We look at the dangers of cryptocurrency and crime. Are the authorities starting to catch up with criminal activity?

Largest cryptocurrency seizure to date

It was announced on 13 July 2021 that nearly £180million of cryptocurrency linked to an international money laundering investigation had been seized by the Met police[1]. That comes hot on the heels of £114million seized by the Met in the previous month[2].

This marks a shift from cash towards digital currency to launder criminal proceeds. Ever since the inception of Bitcoin in 2009 and the massive growth in the surrounding technology, criminals have developed increasingly harmful and ingenious ways to use this technology to their advantage. The NCA’s National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime report from May 2021[3] also confirms that the pandemic has led to the increased use of cryptocurrency by criminals. Criminals found it difficult to move cash due to businesses being closed so had to look for alternative ways to launder dirty money.

Cryptocurrency has long been seen as a potential haven for criminals. However every chain records on blockchain where money is sent or received. That in turn has led to unregulated cryptocurrency exchanges which are not compliant with Anti-Money Laundering (AML) requirements and exploit anonymity in order to move illicit funds undetected.

There has been criticism that law enforcement has been slow to tackle the risks of crime associated with cryptocurrency due to difficulties in piercing the level of anonymity involved. However the two headline grabbing seizures by police in the past month may signal that law enforcement capabilities are starting to catch up with the criminals who have so far had a head start.

[1] Detectives break record in new cryptocurrency seizure worth nearly £180million
[2] Woman arrested for money laundering after seizure of £114 million of cryptocurrency
[3] NCA national strategic assessment of serious and organised crime

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