UK’s Law Enforcement Expects Uptick In Crypto Fraud

England and Wales’ chief criminal investigations agency, the Crown Prosecution Service, is preparing for an increase of prosecutions tied to cryptocurrency-related scams, the Financial Times reports.

“Whilst schemes using high investment returns have been used for decades, I think we will see increasing numbers,” Crown Prosecution Service Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill reportedly told the Financial Times. “Cases coming in are in low numbers now, but my prediction is they will increase.”

England’s national fraud-reporting operation, Action Fraud, reported that cryptocurrency-related scams totaled 5,581 in calendar 2020 — a 57 percent increase over the prior year, according to the Financial Times. Losses to cryptocurrency-related scams totaled an estimated $156 million.

And in January 2021, the paper reported, cryptocurrency fraud cases hit 720 — twice the January 2020 number.

According to the Financial Times, banking industry trade group U.K. Finance stated in March 2021 that in 2020, wire transfers in which customers inadvertently sent money to criminals committing fraud totaled almost $700,000.

The paper states one of the reasons for the increase in cryptocurrency-related crimes has been the surge in the prices of high profile cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

The paper added that the temptation of seeking anonymous payment through Bitcoin appears to have fueled some crimes, such as that of a farmer convicted in August 2020 of contaminating jars of baby food and then blackmailing a grocery store chain and demanding payment in the cryptocurrency.

The government’s response to such as crimes also is expected to include the opening of a London court dedicated to alleged financial crime, the Financial Times reported.

Beyond traditional types of fraud, cryptocurrencies have become a favorite medium for the payments demanded by purveyors of ransomware. Last week, the head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said combating ransomware attacks was among his top cybercrime priorities.