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Do Industry Operators, Researchers, and Regulators Agree On How Big Crypto Crime Is?

Coindesk | Jack Schickler | May 9, 2022

Crypto crime - Do Industry Operators, Researchers, and Regulators Agree On How Big Crypto Crime Is?

The European Union is in late-stage talks over how to implement new rules intended to curb dodgy behavior that uses virtual assets – but estimates of the share of crypto payments linked to financial crime vary wildly from 0.15% to a whopping 46% of transaction volumes.

But attempting to get a handle on the exact scale of unlawful virtual asset activity isn’t easy. It usually relies on identifying crypto addresses that appear suspect and totting up their trade volume – but illicit users generally prefer to hide in the shadows.

See:  CipherTrace August 2021 Crypto Crime Report: Crypto Fraud Dips as DeFi Hacks Grow

People in the crypto industry like to quote the figures on the lower end of the range, and on Friday, Binance’s CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao tweeted statistics to argue that crypto is safer than fiat. According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, money laundering through conventional finance is worth as much as $2 trillion, comparable to the total value of all the world’s crypto markets combined.

But regulators are worried not just about the overall volumes, but what they represent as a share of the crypto sector. They’ve noted how fast virtual assets are gaining popularity, and are thinking about what the scale of the problem might be in future, not just today.

In a report published in July 2021, FATF noticed significant variations in estimates of illicit crypto trades both over time and among different analysts, such as Chainalysis, Elliptic and Merkle Science – which could be, Grauer said, because they look at a different universe of transactions or currencies.

Whatever the reason, FATF believes that the analysts’ estimates of the percentage of transactions that are unlawful, which range from 0.1% to 15.4%, are all too low.

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This matters for live policy. In March, the European Parliament voted to introduce new checks on the identities of those making even the smallest crypto payments – including, most controversially, when transactions are made with unhosted wallets that aren’t managed by a regulated exchange.

The idea – whose details still need to be finalized with national governments – is that law enforcement would then be able to more easily track crypto transactions that could be used to fund serious crimes, such as terrorism or child pornography. But the move met with a slew of opposition from industry players such as Coinbase (COIN), who said the bill could stifle innovation and harm privacy.

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