Is Bitcoin the currency of crime?

The Hawks have dealt with several cases involving the cryptocurrency – most recently, the kidnapping of a Durban businesswoman. Courtesy #DStv403

JOHANNESBURG - Is Bitcoin fast becoming the currency of criminals?

The Hawks have dealt with several cases involving the cryptocurrency most recently, the kidnapping of a Durban businesswoman.

Sandra Moonsamy was snatched out of her luxury vehicle on this Pinetown road two months ago.

READ: Hawks warn of dodgy Bitcoin investment schemes

A man has since appeared in court for allegedly being in possession of her cellphone but the Durban businesswoman still remains missing.

Shortly after Moonsamy's disappearance, a ransom demand was sent via email.

"We are aware of the emails that were sent to the family to say that they demand so much Bitcoin," said Simphiwe Mhlongo, Hawks spokesperson.

"We can say that there are opportunists that are using this trend of Bitcoin because it's operating on the web, it's an internet thing. They take advantage that people do not know, they don't know how it works," said Mhlongo.

Bitcoin is completely digital, and is one of many cryptocurrencies available worldwide.

Since it's not tangible, it's much harder to trace  making it an attractive option for criminals.

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In the past year, it featured in ransom demands in South African kidnapping cases most notably, that of Katlego Marite in Mpumalanga.

"You see it a lot overseas, not so much here with kidnappings but I see it increasing here with kidnappings. Definitely, they perceive it as anonymous and also it's an easy way to get their money. You're not going through the banking system," said Private Investigator, Rick Crouch.  

Crouch, an internationally-renowned private investigator, says there's also been lots of extortion cases, too.

"Bitcoin, in South Africa, I would say at least 150. It's extortion, mostly extortion, there are some others that involve ransomware on people's computers where you have to pay in Bitcoin. Those are the two main ones. I always advise people, never make that first payment. If you do they're going to come back," said Crouch.

Crouch says despite the perceived anonymity of cryptocurrency, criminals always leave footprints.

"They think it's untraceable but it's not untraceable. We can trace it back, we can check every transaction to a Bitcoin account, we can trace it to the wallet, we can connect the wallet to a public profile if there's one connected so it's not untraceable," he said.

The Hawks can't confirm if there's been a spike in Bitcoin-related crimes just yet, but concede that these cases are more difficult to investigate.



 

Source
AFP