Greater regulations and enforcement can deter some crypto crimes, blockchain forensics provider Chainalysis said in a new report.
The firm's 2020 "State of Crypto Crime" report, published Wednesday, offers analysis of illicit activities last year, contrasting 2019's actions with previous years. Chainalysis found that while the amount of bitcoin sent from criminal entities doubled between 2018 and the end of 2019, it still accounts for just 0.08 percent of the total number of bitcoin transactions last year.
And while exchange hacks and thefts dominated headlines last year, “scams were by far the highest-earning category of crypto crime in 2019,” the report said. “Cryptocurrency scams represent a significant danger to consumer protection, and the growth of this activity in 2019 calls for increased action from regulators, law enforcement and exchanges alike.”
According to the report, scammers received roughly $4.3 billion in crypto, out of about $6 billion received from illicit activity last year. Overall, scams accounted for $8.6 billion in crypto transactions, while criminal activity (including hacks and thefts) totaled just under $12.5 billion..
Other categories included terrorism financing, ransomware, darknet markets, outright theft, sanctions and child abuse. Moreover, the total amount of crypto used in scams is disproportionately weighed down by “just three separate large-scale Ponzi schemes”; without them, the numbers drop dramatically (for example, the PlusToken Ponzi appears to have accounted for between $2 and $3 million alone).
Chainalysis mentions at multiple points that a solution, or at least the beginnings of one, to the issue of illicit activity can come from more informed regulation, better enforcement of regulation and action by crypto exchanges to tackle illicit activities.
“We believe the consumer protection implications make cryptocurrency scams an issue regulators must address and law enforcement must have the resources to investigate,” the report said. “Exchanges are also in a unique position to help, both in terms of protecting users from being scammed and preventing successful scammers from depositing funds or cashing out.”
Regulators and law enforcement agents must become more familiar with analyzing blockchains as part of this effort, the report said.
The company also highlights its own services, noting that while money laundering in the fiat world might require court-issued subpoenas to tackle, “blockchain analysis tools like Chainalysis” can help investigators analyze transactions recorded on public ledgers.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups. As part of their compensation, certain CoinDesk employees, including editorial employees, may receive exposure to DCG equity in the form of stock appreciation rights, which vest over a multi-year period. CoinDesk journalists are not allowed to purchase stock outright in DCG.