‘Crypto Assaults’: Thieves in London target digital investors by taking phones | Cryptocurrencies

Thieves are targeting digital currency investors on the street in a wave of “crypto-raids”, police have warned, with victims reporting thousands of pounds stolen after their mobile phones were seized.

Anonymous crime reports provided to The Guardian by the City of London Police, as part of a request for freedom of information, reveal that criminals combine physical muscle with digital knowledge to keep people separate from their cryptocurrency.

A victim said she was trying to order an Uber near Liverpool Street station in London when the attackers forced her to hand over her phone. While the gang eventually returned the phone, the victim later realized that his account with the crypto-investment platform Coinbase was missing £ 5,000 of Ethereum digital currency.

In another case, a man was approached by a group of people who offered to sell him cocaine and agreed to go down an alley with them to close the deal. The men offered to enter a number on his phone, but instead gained access to his cryptocurrency account, held him up against a wall and forced him to unlock a smartphone app with face verification. They transferred £ 6,000 in ripple, another digital currency, from his account.

A third victim said he threw up under a bridge when an attacker forced him to unlock his phone using a fingerprint, then changed his security settings and stole £ 28,700, including cryptocurrency.

In another case, a victim told police his card and phone were stolen after a night on the town at the pub, with £ 10,000 later stolen from their account at investment platform Crypto.com. The victim used his phone at the pub and thought the thieves saw him enter his account PIN, according to the report.

“It’s a kind of cryptocurrency attack,” said David Gerard, author of Attack on the 50 Foot Blockchain, a book on digital currencies.

Cryptocurrency transfers are irreversible, unlike bank transfers, making this type of crime more attractive to thieves.

“If I get robbed and they force me to make a bank transfer, the bank can track where the money went and there are all sorts of returns. You can cancel the transaction.

“With crypto, if I transfer it to my crypto wallet, I have your coins and you can not get them back.”

He said the risks were exacerbated by the way some people manage their smartphone investments, without exercising the same degree of caution as with cash. “People keep stupid sums of money in cryptocurrencies. They do not think it’s money in one way or another.

Gurvais Grigg, a 23-year-old veteran of the FBI, now works as director of technology in the public sector for chainalysis, which helps government agencies and financial institutions track digital currency movements.

He said the nature of cryptocurrency, where transactions are recorded on the blockchain, meant that in theory the police should be able to track down stolen crypto.

“To [transfer stolen assets], they must provide a wallet address, and most likely they will use that wallet address again in the future. You must also take it to a stock exchange if you want to convert it into fiat currency.

He said it created a digital paper trail that investigators can use and regularly use to track multi-million dollar cryptocurrencies. He said, however, that they were less likely to have the resources to prosecute minor, isolated crimes.

“An individual theft of a small amount may not attract the attention of the police or a large law enforcement agency.

“If they could put together a larger plot of activity where people do it more than once or twice, the police departments would probably be aware of it.”

The crypto attacks took place in the second half of 2021, in the relatively small part of London’s financial district patrolled by the City of London Police.

The incidents are not the first in which people have been forced to hand over cryptocurrencies under threat of violence.

A student from Kent claimed last year that eight people stormed his college residence and forced him to transfer bitcoin worth £ 68,000 with a knife.

Later that year, American tech entrepreneur Zaryn Dentzel told police he had been attacked in his home in Madrid by masked thieves. He said they tortured him with a knife and a stun gun before disappearing with millions of euros in bitcoins.

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But the nature of crimes reported in London last year – apparently opportunistic street incidents similar to an assault on cash or valuables – presents police with new challenges.

Phil Ariss, who heads the cryptocurrency team for the National Council of Chiefs of Police’s cybercrime program, said more training is being given to police officers in a number of crypto-related crimes.

He said police are also looking for ways to inform the public about the need to be careful when accessing a crypto account.

“You would not go down the street with £ 50 banknotes and count them. This should apply to people with cryptocurrencies,” he said.

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