U.K Police seize Bitcoin worth £300M in crime-linked crypto wallets, more under watch

Of the total crypto seized by the U.K. police, Bitcoin alone contributes a staggering 99 percent of the entire amount.
The U.K police are working on building technologically advanced infrastructure to deal with criminals using crypto assets.

Police across the United Kingdom have been seizing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies from crime-linked cryptocurrency wallets. The most recent criminal investigations have led the U.K Police to seize nearly £300 million in Bitcoin.

As per the Freedom of information (FOI) request, 12 of the UK’s 48 police forces in Britain confiscated this digital asset over the last five years. Bitcoin alone represents a staggering 99 percent of the seized cryptocurrency in the U.K. The rest 1 percent includes other altcoins like Ethereum, Dash, Monero, and Zcash.

As per the report, the true amount seized could be even higher as not all of the 15 U.K. Police forces have responded to the request. Speaking to local news publication City A.M, some experts said that this could only be a tiny fraction of the illicit funds used in the U.K. Furthermore, the police have been facing severe technological and legislative hurdles for crimes involving cryptocurrencies.

Related: UK crypto investors lost $200 million to crypto fraud between January and September 2021

Joseph Harrop, the Detective chief inspector of the economic crime unit at Greater Manchester Police said that the crypto adoption by criminals has been unexpectedly fast. Thus, law enforcement agencies have to acquire new skills to deal with such cases and seize funds.

As a result, the U.K. police has been hiring civilian staff having technical expertise with digital assets and training them to work with detectives.

Legal hurdles faced in seizing illicit crypto

The U.K. Police said that it is not easy to confiscate cryptocurrency wallets. As per the UK’s Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, police can seize cash if they find it to be linked to criminal activity. However, powers to seize non-cash assets like cryptocurrencies are narrower in scope.

Another major technological problem is that digital currencies have extremely strong encryption in place. So, despite seizing the crypto wallet, the police cannot gain easy access to funds since they don’t have encryption keys. Harrop said:

If we recover laptops, USB sticks, they might have a level of encryption on and, yes, there’s a difficulty in getting inside it. As daft as it sounds, sometimes people do leave golden nuggets or strong evidence where they might literally have the stuff that we need written down on a piece of paper.

Jake Moore, the former Head of Digital Forensics at Dorset Police said that digital investigations still remain in their infancy stage. He added that they will need far more resources to fight this growing criminality of crypto. He concluded by saying:

Cybercriminals are very aware of the well documented evasion tactics available but policing is improving at a rate that will slowly catch up in time. Deploying better surveillance techniques on known suspects, increasing intelligence and improving the profiling on those who are thought to be involved all helps build stronger evidence to recover and seize funds. However, the cost of this could potentially outweigh the amount that is recoverable in many cases.

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