Crypto muggers target smartphones in London’s financial district

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Crypto literate criminals using brute force are on the rise in London, stealing thousands of dollars in digital assets using traditional mugging tactics, reports The Guardian.

The anonymized crime reports obtained by The Guardian detail several violent attacks over a six-month period to the end of December 2021. Victims are forced to unlock their smartphones which allows the muggers to access their crypto wallets. In some cases, the smartphone is returned.

One person reported losing £5,000 ($6,200) worth of Ethereum (ETH) in a mugging while waiting for an Uber. Another victim lost £28,700 ($35,400) including crypto — while vomiting under a bridge, a mugger forced them to unlock their phone with a fingerprint.

A third was lured down an alley expecting to buy cocaine. Instead, they were pinned to a wall as muggers unlocked their phone with facial recognition. £6,000 ($7,400) in Ripple (XRP) was stolen.

From the reports, there appears to be an opportunistic element to crypto mugging. A pickpocketing victim lost £10,000 ($12,300) from his account after his cards and phone were stolen. They believe they were targeted after the pickpocketers saw him type in the pin to his crypto exchange account.

Phil Ariss, who heads up the cryptocurrency team on the National Police Chiefs’ Council cybercrime programme, warned crypto users to keep their valuable digital assets hidden when in public.

“You wouldn’t walk down the street holding £50 notes and counting them. That should apply to people with crypto assets,” he said (via The Guardian).

Ariss said that officers are receiving training on various forms of crypto-related crime.

Crypto muggings likely go unsolved

The reports detail a handful of cases across the six month period however, it isn’t representative of how many crypto muggings are happening elsewhere in the capital. The City of London Police is responsible for a very small one-mile area in London’s financial district (known as the square mile). The rest of Greater London is policed by the Metropolitan Police force.

Between June and December 2021, The City of London Police recorded 73 instances of Theft from the Person. The term is used to describe the theft of property being held or carried by the victim. In the case of mugging, this is done with the threat of violence but the term also includes pickpocketing and snatching.

For context, the much larger neighbouring borough of Westminster (London’s political centre) reported more than 6,000 instances of the same offence across the same period.

Indeed, it’s likely that most muggings never mind crypto muggings go unresolved for the victim. Out of the more than 70 Theft from the Person events reported by The City of London Police all were under investigation or had concluded without identifying a suspect.

According to the Office for National Statistics in 2021, just 5% of all reports of theft resulted in a conviction and in more than 73% no suspect could be identified.

Read more: UK ‘Tinder swindler’ faces 2 more years in jail for losing access to his Bitcoin

However, crypto transactions reveal useful data which could be employed to track criminals targeting cryptocurrency investors.

Chainalysis’ chief tech officer Gurvais Grigg told The Guardian that blockchain data generated in a mugging where crypto is stolen could help investigators to catch perpetrators.

“To [transfer stolen assets], they have to provide a wallet address and, most likely, they’ll use that wallet address again in the future. You also need to bring it to an exchange if you want to turn it into fiat currency,” Grigg said.

However, Grigg highlighted that, compared to large scale crypto heists, the relatively small amounts stolen in these muggings might not warrant a blockchain investigation.

“If they could put together a larger conspiracy of activity, where people are doing it more than once or twice, police services would likely pay attention,” Grigg added.

Protos contacted the City of London Police to see if they were using this data in their investigations; at press time they had not responded. We will update this story should we receive a reply.

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