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Seizures opener HP
Photographer: Patrick Leger
Markets Magazine

‘Staggering’ Crypto Seizures Have Cops Struggling to Keep Up

Some criminals see digital assets as easier to hide and transfer. Law enforcement is learning fast.


One spring day in a village just west of London, residents saw a man being muscled into a car in front of a nearby house. He reappeared with cuts and bruises 13 hours later, but the cops had already discovered the house was a cannabis-growing operation. A separate search of the man’s home in a nearby town turned up something more intriguing—some of the first cryptocurrency that would ever be seized by U.K. police.

That era-defining 2017 case yielded a safety-deposit box containing jewelry, gold bars, £263,000 ($345,000) in cash, and an item that flummoxed the lead investigator, Matthew Durkin, a 19-year veteran of the Surrey police. It was a USB device found in the suspect’s study. The gadget was wrapped in a small notebook, which contained two strings of 12 random words. A young probationary officer recognized the device, a KeepKey, as a virtual currency holder and the words as seed phrases to access crypto wallets. Eventually, police discovered it held 295 Bitcoin.