Mat Hayward - stock.adobe.com
Five men and a woman have been arrested in Charlcombe and Lower Weston in Bath, Staverton in Wiltshire, and Amsterdam and Rotterdam in the Netherlands for alleged cryptocurrency theft.
The arrests follow a 14-month investigation into a €24m cryptocurrency theft, which targeted users’ bitcoin tokens and is believed to have affected at least 4,000 people in 12 countries, with the number of victims continuing to rise.
“The investigation has grown from a single report of £17,000 worth of bitcoin stolen from a Wiltshire-based victim to a current estimate of more than 4,000 victims in at least 12 countries. We expect that number to grow,” said Det Insp Louise Boyce of the SW RCCU.
“As part of the operation, we have seized a large number of devices, equipment and valuable assets with huge support from our colleagues in Avon and Somerset Police, Wiltshire Police, Tarian and the South East ROCU. Devon and Cornwall and the Metropolitan Police also provided vital help in the form of their two cyber dogs, which played key roles in searching suspects’ homes.”
Boyce added that the devices and equipment seized will now be examined by the SW RCCU.
The investigation relates to typosquatting, where a well-known online cryptocurrency exchange was spoofed – recreated to imitate the genuine site – to gain access to victims’ bitcoin wallets, stealing their funds and login details.
This case was referred to the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT) hosted at Europol after the UK authorities identified possible suspects living in the Netherlands.
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Europol said operational support delivered by EC3 since February 2018 allowed the J-CAT to coordinate the international cooperation between the different EU member states involved.
Operational meetings were organised at Europol’s headquarters between the UK and Dutch authorities to enable the exchange of intelligence and evidence. Europol said a coordination meeting was also held at Eurojust to prepare for the arrests.
The three Britons based in the South West were arrested on suspicion of committing computer misuse and money-laundering offences, while the Dutch suspects were arrested on suspicion of money laundering.