The FBI is cracking down on illicit crypto cash flows The FBI is cracking down on illicit crypto cash flows

The FBI is cracking down on illicit crypto cash flows

As crypto's popularity increases, so too does its illicit uses cases.

The FBI is cracking down on illicit crypto cash flows

Cover art/illustration via CryptoSlate. Image includes combined content which may include AI-generated content.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is aggressively and rapidly escalating efforts to crack down on the illicit usage of cryptocurrencies across a wide range of criminal activities. A recent FBI forfeiture notice on August 21st detailed numerous seizures totaling 195 instances of major cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH) across multiple states and jurisdictions.

Forfeiture is a legal process allowing the government to remove ownership of property involved in a crime, ensuring criminals cannot profit. The FBI has invoked this process 195 times specifically for virtual currency seizures, demonstrating extensive tracking of cryptocurrencies. These virtual currencies were frequently seized alongside cash, vehicles, weapons, drugs, and other contraband in cases pursued under statutes covering drug proceeds, fraud, money laundering, and more.

Specifically, the FBI conducted at least 39 virtual currency seizures in California, 35 in Florida, 25 in Texas, 20 in New York, and 19 in Virginia. The varieties of cryptocurrencies included Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), Tether (USDT), Cardano (ADA), Polkadot (DOT), and others, displaying sophisticated tracking across diverse blockchain platforms.

The amounts of cryptocurrency seized in each case varied widely, spanning from just 0.0005 Bitcoin worth only $11.40 to over 100,000 Tether valued at $110,572. The total dollar value of the virtual currency seizures in each instance ranged from just a few hundred dollars up to as much as $469,076 per case.  The frequent seizure of crypto alongside drugs, cash, weapons, and other contraband signals the integration of cryptocurrency into existing criminal ecosystems as an alternative payment mechanism thought to be anonymous and untraceable.

The FBI formed a dedicated cryptocurrency tracing unit in 2015, enabling agents to follow the flow of crypto tied to drugs, fraud, weapons, extortion, and numerous other offenses through the blockchain. FBI Director Christopher Wray stated in 2021 that monitoring and cracking down on illicit cryptocurrency usage was a top priority for the agency. These 195 virtual currency forfeitures covered in the August notice speak to the FBI’s ability to track and seize crypto funds.

The wide geographic span demonstrates coordinated efforts between FBI field offices, federal prosecutors, and cryptocurrency exchanges. While the seizures represent a fraction of illicit crypto, they have grown in frequency as Bitcoin and other digital assets gain adoption. According to the 2022 FBI Crime Report, complaints of cryptocurrency scams rose 65% compared to 2021.