Careful with your Bitcoin: FBI sees rise in cryptocurrency crimes

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Cryptocurrency is becoming more common in criminal activity, federal authorities warn those who are investing in it.

“I mean, criminal actors are working day and night to swindle people out of their hard-earned money, and so folks have to be cautious if they are going to dabble into Bitcoin,” FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Scott McKee said.

In 2019, Grand Rapids-based Geek Group was raided by the FBI as it investigated leaders for illegally trading cryptocurrency. The founder said at the time he “made a bad decision” and he was going to “pay for it.” Earlier this month, court documents revealed allegations that between 2017 and 2018, he and others laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars, some of it coming from their clients’ drug sales, using Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is a currency that you can buy and use online. It’s legal, but like any other currency, crooks are finding ways to use it.

“We see it used to fund terrorism. We see it used in money laundering,” McKee said.

McKee, who works out of the Grand Rapids FBI office, says that while Bitcoin is often used in ransomware scams, the most common crime is money laundering.

According to FBI statistics, victims in Michigan lost almost $917,361 in virtual currency crimes in 2019 alone. The number of criminal cases involving Bitcoin specifically is increasing, with the FBI reporting a spike in the past five years.

“Bitcoin it can be exploited easier and that’s because individuals and nefarious actors will continue to use a variety of actions to hide their anonymity to hide their identity,” McKee said.

He said criminals are turning to Bitcoin because on the dark web, it’s easier to hide your identity and you can move the money across the world in a matter of seconds.

“I don’t see it (Bitcoin) going anywhere. I only see it becoming more prevalent and used in more legitimate transactions. Unfortunately, there will always be cyber actors looking to exploit that and that’s why we are going to be here for a long time as well,” McKee said.

If you are looking to buy Bitcoin, use a licensed money exchange. Using an unlicensed exchange puts you at risk for getting involved with dirty money, which could land you in a criminal investigation and result in your funds being seized.  


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