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DOJ seizes $112M tied to cryptocurrency schemes


CoinDesk Consensus

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a March 3 announcement that it has seized $112 million worth of digital assets tied to crypto investment scams.

DOJ seizes millions of dollars of crypto

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. said that authorities will return the seized funds to victims and will attempt to build public awareness, writing:

“These particularly vicious frauds – where scammers carefully cultivate relationships with their victims over time – have devastated families and cost individuals their life savings.”

In the relevant scams, perpetrators gradually earned the trust of their victims through social networks, dating websites, phone calls, text messages, and similar means of communication. Ultimately, the perpetrators convinced their targets to invest in fake cryptocurrency platforms before funneling the stolen funds to their own addresses.

The DOJ said that this type of scam is called “Sha Zhu Pan,” a Chinese phrase that means “pig butchering.” Most of the victims were between the ages of 30 and 49.

The agency seized six crypto accounts across three states with authorization in the District of Arizona, the Central District of California, and the District of Idaho. The seized cryptocurrency accounts were allegedly used to launder funds from the above scams.

The DOJ’s broader role in crypto crime

The DOJ noted that crypto fraud including pig butchering schemes increased 183% between 2021 and 2022, amounting to $2.57 billion of stolen funds. This accounted for most fraud reported to the FBI’s online crime center, which amounted to $3.31 billion in total.

The agency has also seized cryptocurrency on other occasions. In November 2022, it reported the seizure of 50,000 BTC tied to Silk Road, then worth $1.05 billion. In February 2022, it seized 94,000 BTC tied to a Bitfinex theft, then worth $3.6 billion. The FBI, an agency within the DOJ, seized $260,000 of assets including NFTs in February 2023.

The DOJ has also taken direct action against certain cryptocurrency projects and related individuals. It has recently targeted CoinMixer, Terra, Bitzlato, and an associate of the OneCoin scam led by “crypto queen” Ruja Ignatova.

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