Breaking: Europol’s $46M Seizure Unveils Dark Web’s Largest Cryptocurrency Laundromat Washed Out with $2.88B Allegedly Laundered
The rise of cryptocurrency has brought about a new era of financial freedom and decentralization, but it has also given rise to a new form of crime: money laundering on the dark web. Criminals are increasingly turning to cryptocurrencies to launder their ill-gotten gains, and law enforcement agencies are struggling to keep up. In a major crackdown on money laundering on the dark web, Europol has seized $46 million in cryptocurrency from one of the largest cryptocurrency laundering services.
One Of The Largest Cryptocurrency Laundromats
A joint effort by German and US authorities, with the support of Europol, has resulted in the targeting of ChipMixer, a notorious cryptocurrency mixer within the cybercriminal community. This investigation was also backed by authorities from Belgium, Poland, and Switzerland.
On March 15th, national authorities dismantled the platform’s infrastructure due to its suspected involvement in money laundering activities. In the operation, four servers were seized, and approximately 1909.4 Bitcoins from 55 transactions (equivalent to approximately EUR 44.2 million) and 7 TB of data were confiscated.
In mid-2017, ChipMixer, an unlicensed cryptocurrency mixer, emerged as a platform that specialized in obfuscating or severing trails associated with virtual currency assets. Cybercriminals found the ChipMixer software to be alluring, as it blocked the blockchain trail of funds, making it easier to launder illegal proceeds from criminal activities such as drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, ransomware attacks, and payment card fraud.
Upon deposit, the funds were converted into “chips,” which were small tokens with the equivalent value. These chips were then mixed together, effectively anonymizing all traces back to their initial source.
Record-breaking EUR 2.73 Billion in Crypto Assets Laundered through Ingenious “Chip” Method
Following the investigation into a criminal service, it has been revealed that the platform may have played a significant role in laundering approximately 152,000 Bitcoins, which is estimated to be worth around EUR 2.73 billion at present. This huge sum of money is believed to be linked to illegal activities such as the sale of illicit goods on dark web markets, ransomware attacks, procurement of child sexual exploitation material, and stolen cryptocurrency assets. The takedown of the Hydra Market dark web platform led to the discovery of millions of euros worth of transactions.
The ChipMixer service has also been utilized by ransomware groups like Zeppelin, SunCrypt, Mamba, Dharma, and Lockbit to launder ransom payments. Furthermore, authorities are currently investigating whether some of the cryptocurrency assets that were stolen after the bankruptcy of a major crypto exchange in 2022 were laundered through the same service.
The coordination of the operation was facilitated by Europol, which played a crucial role in exchanging information between national authorities. Europol also provided analytical support, linking available data to various criminal cases both within and outside the EU. In addition, the investigation was aided by operational analysis, cryptocurrency tracing, and forensic analysis, all of which were provided by Europol.
The Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT) at Europol also provided support for the operation. This task force is a standing operational team that consists of cybercrime liaison officers from various countries who work on high-profile cybercrime investigations.
The rise of money laundering on the dark web with cryptocurrencies is a major challenge for law enforcement agencies around the world. The anonymity and decentralization of cryptocurrencies make it difficult for them to track and prosecute criminals, and the use of cryptocurrency mixers and tumblers only exacerbates the problem.
However, there are some steps that can be taken to combat this problem. Law enforcement agencies can work to increase their knowledge of cryptocurrencies and the dark web and develop new technologies and strategies to track and prosecute criminals. Governments can also work to regulate and oversee cryptocurrency exchanges and other services in order to prevent them from being used for illicit activities.
The rise of money laundering on the dark web with cryptocurrencies is a complex and evolving problem, but it is one that must be addressed if we are to effectively combat crime in the digital age. It will require a concerted effort from governments, law enforcement agencies, and the cryptocurrency industry to work together to find solutions and prevent the misuse of cryptocurrencies for illicit activities.