FBI launches new unit to ‘aggressively track crypto criminals’

  • The FBI has finally launched its Virtual Assets Unit which it first announced in February as it seeks to crack down aggressively on crypto-related crimes.
  • The agency believes that virtual currencies are used to facilitate nearly every type of online criminal activity, including ransomware attacks and child exploitation.

Cryptocurrency criminals will now have a fresh unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) breathing down their necks. The FBI has launched the new unit, which it first announced in February, with the express goal of cracking down aggressively on crypto crime.

Known as the Virtual Assets Unit (VAU), it will become “a nerve center for the FBI’s virtual currency programs where intelligence, technology, and operational support will flow to other divisions.”

The agency will have dedicated virtual currency experts and cross-divisional resources embedded in a task force setting to integrate intelligence and operations across the entire agency.

Crypto-related crime has been on a rise for the past five or so years. According to research conducted by Chainalysis, this type of crime hit a new all-time high in 2021, with illicit addresses receiving over $14 billion last year. This was nearly double the amount in 2020 when $7.8 billion in crypto crime proceeds was recorded.

Scams were by far the most popular type of crypto crime. In 2021, scams shot up 82 percent to hit $7.8 billion, over half the total amount related to crime. Rug pulls became a big phenomenon as DeFi investors continued to have their funds stolen by rogue developers. Malware and terrorism financing were the other two biggest sectors.

The FBI intends on cracking down on these crimes, linking virtual currencies to “nearly every type of online criminal activity, including ransomware attacks, child exploitation, and furthering the activities of hostile nation states.”

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The VAU is the result of a partnership between the Criminal Investigative and the Cyber Divisions and is part of the FBI’s strategic plan to address the growing need to have crypto expertise in law enforcement and intelligence communities.

Commenting on the unit, Brian Turner, the executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch stated:

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The FBI’s new Virtual Assets Unit is the result of collaboration, hard work, and strategic vision from FBI employees who came together to establish a virtual currency center of excellence in the FBI. The FBI has a long history of using virtual currency to track criminals profiting from ransomware, soliciting murders-for-hire, and raising funds for terrorist organizations. The VAU will integrate experts across the organization to leverage the outstanding work being done every day.

Related: FBI seizes $2.3 million in BTC from Russian ransomware operator

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Steve has been a blockchain writer for four years, and a crypto enthusiast for even longer. He is most excited by the application of blockchain to solve the challenges facing developing nations.

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