The rise of crypto laundries: how criminals cash out of bitcoin Financial Times

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Kraken’s settlement with the Treasury Department. Kraken’s trading services to customers who appeared to be in Iran may have been in violation of U.S. sanctions. Know-your-customer policies in the United States became mandatory under the USA Patriot Act of 2001. By October 2002, the Secretary of the Treasury finalized regulations making KYC compulsory for all U.S. banks. Treasury Department added the Tornado Cash coin mixing service to its sanctions list in August 2022, the agency cited its use in money laundering and cybercrime.

To date, the SEC has focused primarily on crypto as a security and therefore whether there should be compliance with the U.S. Indeed, the SEC has focused crypto enforcement firepower primarily in connection with allegations of unregistered sales of securities. More recently, in February 2022, BlockFi Lending LLC (BlockFi) agreed to settle with the SEC for $100 million for failing to register the offers and sales of its retail crypto lending product.


The Chainalysis figures only cover crimes such as ransomware attacks where criminals are paid in cryptocurrency. Chainalysis says it tracks cryptocurrency wallets controlled by criminals such as ransomware attackers, malware operators, scammers, human traffickers, dark net market operators, and terrorist groups. On January 1, 2021, the US National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA) became law.

cryptocurrency anti-money laundering

AML is the broader umbrella program that denotes the other measures money service businesses take to prevent and combat money laundering and other financial crimes. Most mainstream exchanges and other Virtual Assets Service Providers (VASPs) are subject to Financial Action Task Force (FATF) guidance, which aims to mitigate the risks of using virtual assets for money laundering and terrorist financing. FATF implements a risk-based approach to Anti-Money Laundering (AML) that includes Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations that require exchanges and other VASPs to verify their customers’ identities. These regulations have prompted criminals to find advanced techniques to throw off financial investigators and launder their illicit funds. The FATF issued its first report on anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing risks of virtual currencies (cryptocurrencies) in 2014. Now the FATF issues global, binding standards to prevent money laundering with virtual currencies.

How does Binance support AML?

For many cryptocurrency advocates, however, the idea of centralized entities having oversight of crypto transactions goes against the founding principles of the space. There are also “tumbler” services that layer crypto through different wallets to make its trail difficult to track. This can be done by disguising the origins of the funds, mixing them with legitimate transactions, or investing them into legal assets. A few weeks ago, news broke that a consortium of U.S.-based crypto companies had formed TRUST, a travel rule compliance platform that expands financial surveillance. That is low compared to more traditional forms of money laundering, the report argues, “suggesting that Bitcoin-based laundering could become increasingly attractive to traditional criminals”. Money from offline crime, such as cash from drug trafficking, converted into cryptocurrency to be laundered is not included, and this could be a growth area, the report suggests.

Until the fall of 2021, Binance allowed customers making deposits under a certain amount to open accounts without being subjected to a rigorous identity-verification process. Binance’s erstwhile rival, FTX, was also being investigated for failing to follow anti-money-laundering rules. By late 2021, Coinbase had a backlog of more than 100,000 alerts about potential suspicious customer transactions that were not being properly examined, according to the Department of Financial Services. Regulators also found that Coinbase performed only the most rudimentary “know your customer” checks on people before letting them open accounts. The exchange treated customer background checks as a “simple check-the-box exercise,” they said. The U.S. crypto exchange will pay a $50 million fine for letting customers open accounts with few background checks and spend $50 million to improve compliance.

How do people launder money?

“In other words, some banks see this as shifting the burden to the authorities,” he said. Where the authorities do not do anything, some banks are prepared to accept the funds in question, he added. This is due to “our reputation of being a trusted financial hub with strict laws and tough enforcement,” Tan told Al Jazeera. City-state’s anti-money laundering controls in spotlight after arrest of 10 foreigners and seizure of $736m in assets. Thus, with DeFi’s relative newness it has become vulnerable to criminal activity for a number of reasons.

cryptocurrency anti-money laundering

Although some way off the heady days of late 2021 when the global market cap hit $3 trillion, crypto remains a trillion-dollar ecosystem supporting novel decentralized business models and financial services. Criminals utilize different methods and services that send funds through numerous addresses or businesses to obscure their origins. The assets are then sent from a seemingly legitimate source to a destination address or an exchange to be liquidated. This process makes it very difficult to trace laundered funds back to illicit activities. It is essential that governments and the FATF continue to modernize regulations to meet new challenges. They must also expand international collaboration and devote more resources to regulatory and criminal enforcement.

Why Do Money Launderers Use Cryptocurrency?

Money laundering is when criminals make illegal funds appear as legitimate money, investments, or financial assets. The proceeds come from crimes such as drug trafficking, terrorism, and fraud. However, increasing alignment on rules is a goal of many jurisdictions and the FATF.

  • Like a bank or stock exchange, though not fully regulated yet, US-based exchanges like Coinbase, Binance.US, Gemini, and Kraken use “Identity Verification” to comply with KYC regulations.
  • In one instance, Coinbase unwittingly helped a digital thief steal $150 million from an unnamed company by claiming to be an employee of that company when opening a Coinbase account.
  • In 2014, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) designated cryptocurrency exchanges as a money service business (MSB).
  • The exchange treated customer background checks as a “simple check-the-box exercise,” they said.
  • Blockchain and crypto firms are installing solid Anti-Money Laundering programs to help make bad actors a thing of the past in cryptocurrencies.
  • The CFTC has adopted the view that cryptocurrency amounts to a commodity, and therefore, companies that trade cryptocurrency-related swaps fall within its jurisdictional reach.