Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies
I've always been open to new ideas; if someone approached me with a new scam or a variation on an old one, as long as I could understand and visualise how it worked, I'd usually be up for it. Scams require the scammer to be confident, its very difficult to persuade someone to do what you want unless you truly understand and have confidence in the scam. I used to mentally rehearse how the scam would work, what preparation I needed to make, who were my potential targets, and what would be my exit strategy. The latter usually consisted of (1) remove sim card from burner phone, (2) smash burner phone into smithereens and dump component parts in several different places, (3) burn any hard copy, (4) wipe hard drive with professional software, and (5) spend proceeds
To me, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are a mystery, inasmuch as I don't really understand how they work, or how/if they will hold their value - and for those reasons, Ive steered clear of them. There is also a little voice in my head telling me it could be one of the most elaborate and successful scams of all time. I appreciate the huge rise in their value recently, however, whilst property obtained through scams might devalue over time, there will always be some intrinsic value to it. This not only includes cash, but also everything bought with that cash e.g. vehicles, high value watches, handbag and fashion items. Police understand its intrinsic value otherwise would not seize it all under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002!
Luxury items are bought by different kinds of people; some are financially secure through legitimate means, others save hard and deny themselves other things in order to indulge their passion. Others (like myself in the past) have come by the money dishonestly and this is reflected in how they spend it. In simple terms 'east come-easy go' I know for a fact that very few of them would have bought some of the vulgar trinkets had they earned the money by digging roads rather than fleecing some love-struck widow out of her life savings.
The intrinsic value of certain items e.g. gold is due to the fact that it has a use over and above being used as a currency. You can't actually 'do' anything with Bitcoin (or any other cryptocurrency for that matter) whereas gold is used in medical, electronic and scientific applications aswell as being one of the most established investment vehicles. It has been traded for centuries, can be analysed for varying degrees of purity and is accepted globally as security and collateral. Try doing that with a bit of Bitcoin code.
So what, might you ask is the attraction of Bitcoin? I met another guy recently who I had worked with on a number of scams a few years ago and hadn't seen him in ages. Whilst I had largely laundered my own proceeds by investing in property, he had always been a big fan of Rolex, Mercedes 4x4, designer handbags for his girlfriend(s) and eating out at expensive restaurants. In 2013, the inevitable happened, he drew too much attention to himself, upset one of his neighbours by regularly parking his flash car across 2 parking spaces, and before very long, Police were coming through the front door without an invitation. He was arrested and the flat was not only searched, it was stripped of everything that the cops believed might represent the proceeds of his crimes. A stack of cloned debit cards and a 'no comment' interview were enough to get him a short sharp spell in prison which, if truth be told, didn't bother him all that much at all. What hurt him more was the loss of his watches, cars and jewellery. He clearly wasn't able to prove that he had afforded the luxury goods legitimately and the application by police to have them confiscated was approved by the court in less than 3 minutes.
When he got out he had already planned his future. He had kept in touch with a few guys using one of the miniature mobile phones smuggled into prison up the bum of someone else, referred to as 'smelly phone' for obvious reasons. He got back on the horse as soon as he could and before the week was out he had joined half a dozen dating sites, had began messaging dozens of different women and his spare room was laid out like the command centre for a military operation. Once he had received a promising response, each potential target had a photograph pasted on the front of a box file and a hand-written biography that he added to after each email.
However, he no longer surrounded himself with the spoils of his crimes, rather he appeared to live modestly and was incredibly friendly and helpful to his neighbours. He told them he was an author of technical manuals (to bore them into disinterest) and worked from home (doesn't everyone these days?) When I asked him how 'business' was going he smiled and admitted that he was doing very well - in fact he had never made so much money since being released.
I mentioned that my own car was coming up for its first MOT and asked what stupidly expensive car he was driving now. To my amazement he pointed towards a Toyota Prius parked opposite and then bored me to death extolling the benefits of hybrids and how he was helping to save the planet. I laughed and pointed out his weird moral code; happy to con lonely widows out of their savings but still felt the need to hug a tree. He explained that he had changed in many ways and his spell inside had taught him not to boast of his wealth and assets, but rather to play the long-game and plan for an early retirement rather than living for the 'here and now' He explained that his plan to achieve this involved using Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, just as a growing number of his fellow fraudsters were doing.
I immediately baulked at the idea of anyone putting their money into something as risky as a cryptocurrency. He replied that if he had a 'normal' job and had saved hard - the most risky thing he might have invested in would have been stocks and shares; however, given the fact that this money represented not only very little effort, and it was also obtained by doing something that he wasn't exactly proud of, almost no risk was too great. He had initially viewed investing in Bitcoin etc as a bit of a long-shot; if it worked out, great - and if it didn't. so what!
He boasted that the days of the Old Bill seizing and confiscating his assets were long gone as they were now safely locked away in a digital wallet. He motioned me to get up and walk with him. About a hundred yards away was a cafe only open to sell take-away drinks. We walked in, he ordered two skinny lattes, and as the barista was preparing them he ushered me to the side of the counter to a Cryptocurrency ATM. I was only vaguely aware that these things existed until then. He exchanged glances with the barista who nodded and smiled as my mate fed his bank card into the machine. He opened an app on his phone and scanned a QR code. There was a beep and the transaction was complete. He then did the same again purchasing not only Bitcoin, but also 4 more types of cryptocurrency.
He explained that different machines have daily limits for how much you can deposit (c£10,000) to buy Bitcoins etc. and to avoid him coming back day after day, he had simply diversified by buying different types of cryptocurrency including Ethereum, XRP and Litecoin.
In the very early days, he fed the machines with cash, and when he began buying Bitcoin in 2015, a single 'coin' was valued at about £200. However, at the time of writing, this has risen to just North of £35,000.! His focus on romance scams had brought in more than he had thought possible and all of the spoils were collected in a bank account which made buying the cryptocurrency easy. He had no wish to walk the streets with up to £50,000 in a bag as there are lots of enterprising criminals about (!)
He explained that whilst the service providers took more than a healthy commission - it wasn't as if he had worked hard for the cash so why should he begrudge them their 'cut'.
As we walked out I noticed that he hadn't paid for the coffees. He laughed and said that they wouldn't even think of charging him given the money they make having the ATM sited in their cafe.
I asked him if he had any idea what proportion of ATM users were using them for similar reasons to himself. He confessed that he had no idea, and there had to be a number of 'genuine' investors looking to diversify their portfolio. Old Bill can only seize what they can find, and it was an open secret that it was much easier to hide a QR code than it was a Mercedes 4x4. Perhaps the Old Bill should consider looking at who uses these machines - its far simpler than chasing the money using traditional methods!
If you are curious to find out where your local cryptocurrency ATMs are - google it - you might be surprised.