Technology

How governments seize millions in stolen cryptocurrency

There have been so many recent multimillion-dollar cryptocurrency thefts that it’s easy to lose track. Organized crime, bad cybersecurity, financially motivated spies, and colorful criminals of all kinds have made so many headlines that even huge heists can go mostly unnoticed by the public. But sometimes the government is able to get it back. Last week, the United States seized $500,000 in cryptocurrency from alleged North Korean hackers who got that money by extorting American medical organizations. That’s just a drop in the bucket considering the grand total: the IRS alone seized $3.5 billion in cryptocurrency in 2021. But how exactly does seizing cryptocurrency work? Skilled criminals know they need to make dirty money clean. Money laundering is the age-old act of making the capital gained from illegal activity look as if it has no connection to the crime itself, so that the money can then be used freely. “I’d say the laundering is more sophisticated than the hacks themselves,” Christopher Janczewski, who was a lead case agent at the IRS specializing in cryptocurrency cases, told MIT Technology Review previously. More than $8.6 billion was successfully laundered through cryptocurrency in 2021.

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