The London police are reporting an uptick in phone-snatching crimes involving cryptocurrencies, where perpetrators are taking physical hold of a victim's phone to access their crypto wallets, according to The Guardian.
According to the police, thousands of pounds worth of cryptocurrency have been stolen by thieves who have violently grabbed mobile phones from unsuspecting victims on the street. The incidents have ranged from being held at gunpoint to being attacked by groups of crypto muggers.
The irreversible nature of crypto transfers also makes the crime highly appealing to opportunistic thieves. “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," David Gerard, author of the crypto book Attack on the 50 Foot Blockchain, told The Guardian.
"With crypto, if I transfer it to my crypto wallet, I’ve got your coins and you can’t get them back.”
“People keep stupid amounts of money on account in crypto. They don’t think it’s money somehow,” he added.
“You wouldn’t walk down the street holding 50-pound notes and counting them. That should apply to people with crypto assets,” Phil Ariss, the head of cryptocurrency at the National Police Chiefs' Council cybercrime program, told The Guardian.
"To [transfer stolen assets], they have to provide a wallet address and, most likely, they’ll use that wallet address again in the future," Gurvais Grigg, a former FBI veteran who now works for the crypto research firm Chainalysis, told The Guardian. "You also need to bring it to an exchange if you want to turn it into fiat currency.”
Last year, crypto crime reached a new all-time high of $14 billion, according to Chainalysis. Crypto scams saw a 82% growth, with victims losing $7.8 billion in cryptocurrency.
However, Chainlysis also pointed out that law enforcement has gotten smarter in detecting crimes. Last year, the IRS seized more than $3.5 billion in cryptocurrency, while the Department of Justice took $56 million.
This month, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission unveiled a brand-new Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit, which will see 50 staff members staff dedicated to protecting investors against crypto scams and crimes.
Governments around the world are also cracking down on crimes involving non-fungible tokens or NFTs. This year, the Department of Justice appointed its first-ever director for its National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team to investigate a raft of NFT scams.
As a result of the wave of muggings, the London police have received greater training on apprehending crypto criminals and have also exhorted the public to be more circumspect with the details of their crypto wallets.