Twelve Romanian nationals have been extradited to the US to face charges, after a multi-year investigation snapped shut on an extensive array of scam operations all hinging on cryptocurrency transfers.
All told, fifteen Romanian nationals and one Bulgarian were charged with 24 counts, including RICO conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and aggravated identity theft. The charges indicate that “millions of dollars [worth of bitcoin]” were stolen in the scams, although firmer numbers are not forthcoming.
The schemes mostly involved advertising fake merchandise such as cars to unwitting victims, and crafting elaborate fake personas - or even impersonating real ones - and using credentials to lure people into sending bitcoin payments to the overseas scammers. The report indicated that the scammers often adopted personas of US military members, presumably to appear more trustworthy.
Clearly, the facility and ease of use of bitcoin unfortunately proved to be a negative in this instance, as the same crimes would presumably have been much more difficult to accomplish using traditional bank transfers.
The investigation involved several US agencies, including the Secret Service and IRS, as well as the Romanian Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism.
If convicted, the extradited individuals face up to 20 years in prison, and between $250,000 and $500,000 in fines.
The Wrong Side of Crypto
This incident is perhaps notable among crypto scams for being conducted largely outside of the cryptoasset industry. More often, we hear of exit scams, exchange hacks, and fake giveaways as more typical methods of people losing their crypto (or, of course, Mt.Gox). But while crypto was an integral part of this campaign of scams, it did not target people who were already within the crypto community.
Probably the most entertaining crypto-related arrest in recent months was that of cyrpto-rich Wong Ching Kit, after he rained money down onto a Hong Kong street from a high building as part of a crypto protomotion.