Police have warned digital asset investors of a wave of “crypto muggings” in London, following a series of crime reports sent to The Guardian.
While cybercrime usually takes place online, London police have revealed that criminals are stealing mobile phones on the street specifically to steal cryptoassets such as Bitcoin.
One of the cases includes a phone stolen near Liverpool Street station. The phone was returned, but the victim said £5,000 of Ethereum had been taken from their Coinbase account.
Many of the police reports saw thousands in digital currency stolen. Among the largest individual losses was a man who had £28,700 stolen after a mugger forced him to unlock his phone using the fingerprint lock.
“It’s a sort of crypto mugging,” David Gerard, author of Attack on the 50 Foot Blockchain, told The Guardian.
“If I get robbed and they force me to make a bank transfer, the bank can trace where the money has gone and there are all sorts of comebacks. You can reverse the transaction.
“With crypto, if I transfer it to my crypto wallet, I’ve got your coins and you can’t get them back.”
Gurvais Grigg, public sector CTO of Chainalysis and former FBI employee, said that despite the differences between crypto transfers and bank transfers, there is in theory enough of a digital paper trail to solve these kinds of crimes.
Grigg said that in order to transfer stolen assets, criminals “have to provide a wallet address and, most likely, they’ll use that wallet address again in the future. You also need to bring it to an exchange if you want to turn it into fiat currency”.
The nature of regulating crypto trading in the UK remains unclear. While some measures have been made, regulators are still expressing concerns.
Last month, the Financial Conduct Authority chief Nikhil Rathi gave a speech outlining his own concerns over cryptocurrency regulation, saying “if you invest in crypto, you need to be prepared to lose all your money”.
However, there is also a considerable amount of crypto confidence from UK politicians, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak and former Health Secretary and Conservative MP Matt Hancock both expressing optimism for UK crypto’s future.