Weekend read: The changing face of crime – the world of cryptocurrency
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In February, a Market Harborough man was jailed for buying and selling drugs online using cryptocurrency.
Cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoins, is becoming the currency of choice for criminals online.
This form of currency was relatively unknown to police forces – and this is where Leicestershire police officer, Sergeant Phil Ariss, comes into the mix.
Sergeant Ariss has been a police officer for 12 years and joined the force in 2008. He was seconded to East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU) Cybercrime Team just over four years ago.
During his time at EMSOU the use of bitcoins in criminality was becoming prevalent and he carried out extensive research into its use in the criminal world.
In 2018 he joined the National Police Chief Council’s (NPCC) Cybercrime programme and is now part of a team who support police forces across the country by coordinating training, offering guidance and providing resources.
Sergeant Ariss’s role focusses on cryptocurrency; he has liaised with forces both nationally and internationally, spoken at many conferences and delivered training to forces with cybercrime units.
Sergeant Ariss said: “I joined the force a number of years ago and worked as a neighbourhood officer in Loughborough. When I became an officer I never thought it would lead me to specialise in this field.
“What we do within the team makes a difference to modern policing – the way we police is not just confined to the streets; it’s now in every home through the guise of technology. For all its benefits there is also a risk that it can be misused in the wrong hands.
“I have learnt a huge amount about how criminals use this as a means to attempt to remain anonymous, it’s not just been used in the illegal drugs market but in other areas including cybercrime, fraud and blackmail.
“Unlike other traditional banking services, or money transfer providers, Bitcoin is not controlled by any government or corporate entity. This makes it an attractive proposition for those wanting increased privacy in their criminal behaviour.
“In the case of Paul Johnson, who was jailed for eight years for trafficking drugs online, the investigating officers identified that Bitcoins were being used and contacted me before they executed the warrant at his home address. We were able to advise the officers on what to look out for.
“Digital media investigators accompanied officers on the warrant, and were able to identify that Johnson kept his Bitcoins in an encrypted ‘wallet’ behind a 20 character password. More than £300,000 worth of Bitcoins were recovered from the scene and it is believed he benefited by nearly £2 million from his crimes.
“As more and more criminals turn to using Bitcoins and other methods of financial privacy, it is important we know what to look out for, and we regularly train officers and staff about the signs of its usage, denying criminals the opportunity to benefit financially.
“Nationally we have helped victims and businesses get their money back after some successful cases where cryptocurrency has been seized.
“We know as technology changes the threats change so we continue to work closely with a number of crime agencies, both in the UK and abroad, to ensure we are all on the front foot.
“We are fortunate that the Home Office has uplifted resources to law enforcement in tackling Cybercrime, which has put UK policing in an enviable position and has enabled us to provide a better service to the public.”