According to a report
by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), the role of cryptocurrencies in money laundering is overrated and unfounded
, with fiat money still being the most used method for such illicit purposes.
Money laundering remains a serious concern globally. Research
by the United Nations intergovernmental organization suggests that $ 800 billion to $ 2 trillion is laundered through fiat channels each year. But cryptocurrencies are only a small part of the picture.
“The identified cases of cryptocurrency laundering remain relatively small compared to the volumes of money laundered through traditional methods,” SWIFT said last week.
He added that traditional methods such as the use of mules, hawala
(using intermediaries), front companies, cash and crimes such as drug trafficking remain at the forefront of money laundering.
On the contrary, the use of cryptocurrencies is minimal, and even the use of digital money by cybercriminals is "few and far between".
That said, there are still some uses for cryptocurrencies on a criminal level. SWIFT has spotted the infamous Lazarus Group - run illegally by North Korean hackers who often exploit cryptocurrencies to extort money from people through blackmail.
Other similar cases are groups of unidentified hackers in Europe who use stolen funds to buy prepaid cryptocurrency debit cards (i.e. cards identical to normal cards issued by banks but which are linked to cryptocurrency accounts, which then at the time of the thickening are converted into fiat currency) among the most popular are Crypto.com, Coinbase Card and the very recent Binance Card.
Cryptocurrencies Crime and the Future
SWIFT said, however, that the use of cryptocurrency for laundering stolen bank funds will increase in the future.
Favourable factors include the growing number of altcoins (alternative cryptocurrencies) that have recently been launched and which focus on providing complete anonymity of transactions.
In addition to this, there are already several services that aim to improve privacy in transactions made in Bitcoin such as mixers and tumblers, tools that mix various transactions (or rather, inputs) from which more outputs will derive, in doing so it becomes very difficult to be able to follow the various changes in ownership of bitcoins.
Similar to these is the rise of privacy-focused cryptocurrencies like Monero, which obfuscate transactional addresses and are therefore difficult to track.
Another potential money laundering tool is the emergence of specialized online marketplaces that only require an email address for registration, which could then be used to convert illegal cryptocurrency earnings into real-world assets such as tech gadgets and watches.
Although therefore it seems that SWIFT has analyzed the problem under several aspects, leaving nothing out and looking at these aspects also in the future, thus trying to anticipate possible illicit uses, to date the problem does not exist or at least is in a minority that can be overlooked.