A cryptocurrency custody solution cannot come soon enough for cryptocurrency markets.
According to a report from CipherTrace, a startup that develops forensic tools for blockchain, cryptocurrency, and financial services, cryptocurrency exchanges are on track to lose as much as $1.5 billion worth of coins to money laundering and theft this year. For context, that’s three times as much money as has already been stolen as compared to all of last year. Theft of cryptocurrencies from exchanges has tripled in value this year. The theft of NEM at Coincheck, a now-closed Japanese exchange, accounts for a substantial portion of that total.
The report states that money laundering of cryptocurrencies has increased at the same rate. $266 million was laundered all of last year. This year’s total already stands at $761 million. Again, the Coincheck hack played an important role. According to reports, hackers at Coincheck had laundered 40% of the total stolen amount (amounting to $200 million approximately).
In February, Rob Wainwright, then head of Europol, estimated that approximately three to four percent of Europe’s annual criminal activity in money (amounting to $4.2 billion to $5.6 billion) was laundered through cryptocurrencies.
Criminals employ a variety of sophisticated mechanisms to confuse authorities and cover their tracks. For example, they anonymize their crypto trail by submitting the coins to a money laundering mixing service, which creates a different blockchain away from the main blockchain of the cryptocurrencies to ensure that there is no way to track the coins back to their respective owners.
David Jevans, CEO of CipherTrace told American Banker, that the alternate chains are written by “highly skilled people who have doctorates in cryptography. According to Jevans, such services charge as much as 3% of the overall amount to perform a laundering transaction and run paid ads on Google.
On-chain transactions or conversion between different cryptocurrencies is also a favorite tactic among money launderers, according to Jevans. Different cryptocurrency blockchains have varying degrees of privacy associated with the chains. Moving between different chains could have the potential to scramble up owner identity. But Jevans did not provide much detail on the effect of rate changes in cryptocurrencies on the overall amount.
An Economist article provided additional detail on money laundering through cryptocurrencies. According to the article, European cocaine dealers converted fiat currencies into crypto and sent them to a digital wallet in Colombia. The cryptos were subsequently converted into pesos at an online exchange and distributed in small amounts among “local mules” who deposited them into various bank accounts. The small amount deposits ensured that local police did not suspect foul play.
As cryptocurrencies move into mainstream markets, the synonymous nature of criminal activity and cryptocurrencies will work to the latter’s detriment. In this context, the report’s findings underscore the urgent need for products and services to monitor criminal activity and prevent theft. CipherTrace counts cryptocurrency exchanges and banks offering custody solutions among its customers.