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Investors in digital currencies are being targeted by phone thieves in a wave of muggings which has seen tens of thousands of pounds worth of cryptocurrencies being stolen.
Crime reports have revealed that thieves have been forcing victims to unlock their phones to transfer huge numbers of online currencies over to their own accounts.
Cryptocurrency, a digital currency that can be used for transactions online, are unique pieces of digital property that can be transferred from one person to another.
But unlike bank transfers, cryptocurrency transfers are irreversible – which has made the modern form of mugging much more attractive to thieves with the digital knowhow of the digital currencies.
An FOI request to the City of London Police by The Guardian revealed how one victim had been robbed of £28,700, including cryptocurrency.
He had been vomiting under a bridge when a thief pounced, forcing him to unlock his phone by fingerprint, and change his security settings.
The City of London had recorded another instance of the ‘crypto mugging’ with a victim who was trying to order an Uber by Liverpool Street tube station in London when he was ambushed by a gang who forced them to hand over their mobile phone.
They were given the phone back but realised later on that £5,000 of digital currency ‘Ethereum’ was missing from their account on investing platform Coinbase, where people can buy bitcoins through exchanges.
Investors in digital currencies are being targeted by phone thieves in a wave of muggings which has seen tens of thousands of pounds worth of cryptocurrencies being stolen, an FOI request to the City of London has found
Another man reported how he was approached by a group of people offering to sell him cocaine, he agreed, and went down an alley with them to exchange money for the drugs.
They accessed his cryptocurrency account as held him against a wall and forced him to unlock an app, which required facial verification, and transferred £6,000 worth of ‘Ripple’, another form of digital currency, out of his account and into theirs.
One victim told the force of how on an evening spent in the pub, his phone and cards were pickpocketed – and later found £10,000 missing from his account on Crypto.com, another investing platform.
He believes the thieves saw him enter his account pin when he was using his phone in the pub and targeted him after having seen it.
These reported crypto-muggings were reported by the City of London police, in London’s financial district, after having taken place from June to December 2021.
Robberies like this have been taking place since 2018, but have been far less common and more targeted to notable crypto investors.
A gang of four gun-wielding raiders stormed an £800,000 barn house in Moulsford, Oxfordshire, in January 2018 and forced crypto-currency trader Danny Aston, 30 at the time, to transfer a fortune in Bitcoin to them on his computer.
In September last year, a fresher at Canterbury Christ Church University was robbed at knifepoint by eight thugs for his Bitcoin, which was worth a staggering £68,000, on his first week at university.
They demanded the security passwords to his financial apps in a 20-minute ordeal, which also saw £3,000 of his university grant payment stolen.
In March 2021, Spanish newspaper El País reported that Zaryn Dentzel, the co-founder of Spanish social network gone communications company, now owned by Telefónica, was robbed of millions of Euros worth of Bitcoin.
One victim in the City of London had been robbed of £28,700, including cryptocurrency after a thief pounced on him as he was vomiting under a bridge, forcing him to unlock his phone by fingerprint, change his security settings, and transfer the money over (file photo)
Mr Dentzel, 38 at the time, was reported to have opened his door at his home in Madrid to four or five hooded thieves who covered his eyes and tortured him with a knife and stun gun before transferring over his millions.
The recent London crimes have presented ‘new challenges’ for the police says Phil Ariss, leading the cryptocurrency team at the National Police Chiefs’ Council cybercrime programme.
He said that police are receiving more training for the recent spike in crimes, and added that the public must be more cautious when entering their crypto accounts on their mobiles.
FBI veteran Gurvais Grigg told The Guardian that police should be able to track back stolen crypto as transactions are all logged on the blockchain.
He said: ‘He said this created a digital paper trail that investigators can, and regularly do, use to track down multimillion-dollar crypto hacks. However, he said they were less likely to have the resources to pursue smaller, one-off crimes.
‘An individual theft of a small amount may not get the attention of the police or a large law enforcement agency.
‘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.’
MailOnline has approached the City of London police for comment.
WHAT ARE CRYPTOCURRENCIES?
A cryptocurrency is a digital currency that can be used for transactions online.
It is the internet’s version of money – unique pieces of digital property that can be transferred from one person to another.
All crytocurrencies use ‘blockchain’ and one can only be made and shared using specific agreed-upon rules. For each cryptocurrency the rules are slightly different.
Bitcoins are lines of computer code that are digitally signed each time they travel from one owner to the next. Physical coin used as an illustration
People can buy bitcoins through exchanges such as Coinbase and Bitfinex.
Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency, created in 2009.
Other currencies such as Litecoin and Dogecoin do the same thing but have slightly different levels of inflation and rules surrounding transactions.
Currently around 270,000 transactions are taking place every 24 hours.
These currencies don’t exist as physical or digital objects. They are just a collective agreement with other people on the network that your currency was legitimately ‘mined’.
Blockchain is the record of changes in ownership of in a currency which is broadcast through the network and maintained by computers around the world.
The network works by harnessing individuals’ greed for the collective good.
A network of tech-savvy users called miners keep the system honest by pouring their computing power into a blockchain, a global running tally of every bitcoin transaction.
As long as miners keep the blockchain secure, counterfeiting shouldn’t be an issue.
However, because cryptocurrencies allow people to trade money without a third party getting involved, they have become popular with libertarians as well as technophiles, speculators — and criminals.