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Seizures opener HP
Photographer: Patrick Leger
Markets
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.

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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.