UK prosecutor expects crypto scams to increase, but numbers remain low for now

Regulation

The United Kingdom Crown Prosecution Service expects to see an increase in the number of Bitcoin (BTC) and cryptocurrency-related scams in the coming years, but admits they are still rather infrequent for the time being.

The CPS estimates that 86% of reported fraud is now cyber-related — a situation exacerbated in the past year by the outbreak of COVID-19 which pushed more people online, reports the Financial Times.

City of London police statistics show that 27,187 reports of cyber-crime were made across the U.K. and Northern Ireland between 2019 and 2020. Of that figure, 5,581 involved reports relating to cryptocurrency investments, amounting to a fifth of all reported cyber-crime incidents.

The number of general fraud cases totaled 822,276 in the same period, suggesting that, despite the meteoric rise in the fortunes of Bitcoin, and the wider crypto market, it still isn’t being readily adopted by would-be fraudsters. Just 0.6% of overall fraud cases related to cryptocurrency, while as little as 3% related to cyber-crime in general.

However, the rise of Bitcoin across 2020 didn’t go unnoticed by everybody. Scams involving cryptocurrency spiked 57% in the year leading up to December 2020 — a year in which Bitcoin quintupled in value.

Director of public prosecutions at the CPS, QC Max Hill, said promises of high investment returns were a common gambit used by fraudsters, and he expects cases involving crypto to increase. Concerning the rise of fraudulent cryptocurrency scams, Hill said:

“Whilst schemes using high investment returns have been used for decades, I think we will see increasing numbers. Cases coming in are in low numbers now but my prediction is they will increase.”

Statistics show that almost half of overall fraud cases relate to check, plastic card, and bank account cases. According to the City of London police, key threats for 2021 include, among other things, romance:

“The highest harm threats for 2020/21 are Courier, Romance, Payment Diversion, Investment, Computer Software Service and frauds linked to Card and Online Bank Accounts.”

A new economic crime court is scheduled to open in London in 2026, and will deal with fraud, economic crimes and cybercrimes in one place.

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