Criminal use of virtual currency a top concern

Early this week Europol's headquarters in The Hague played host to financial and cybercrime investigators, as well as prosecutors from 21 countries in the first-ever meeting of global law enforcement officials to discuss and coordinate investigations into the worldwide criminal exploitation of virtual currencies.

Of the issues addressed at the two-day event the anonymity of financial transactions through some virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, and the challenges this poses to criminal investigations, were at the forefront. The explosive growth of merchants accepting virtual currencies, currently estimated at 26 000, continues to expose virtual currencies to abuse by criminal networks, Europol's report noted, while creating a navigational chaos for law enforcement.

Ongoing criminal cases that were regarded included the virtual currency Liberty Reserve, alleged to have conducted 55 million illicit transactions, and the pending charges against online marketplace, Silk Road, which allegedly accepted up to 9.5 million bitcoins for the sale of illegal substances including one purportedly used for homicidal purposes.

The event's opening address by ICE HSI Deputy Assistant Director, Mark Witzal, underscored a crucial need for law enforcement teamwork across the globe. “Coordination meetings such as this are vitally important,” Witzal remarked, “so that as each of our law enforcement agencies learns more about how criminals use virtual currencies, and we communicate these lessons with each other."