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The United Kingdom Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) continued its crackdown on illegal Bitcoin automated teller machines (ATMs) this week, announcing it had inspected several sites in East London suspected of hosting unregistered machines.
As per an announcement by the FCA on March 8, the financial regulator stated that it had investigated several sites in the East London area alongside the Metropolitan Police, and would continue to “identify and disrupt” unregistered crypto ATM businesses in the UK.
The latest development in the FCA’s ongoing battle against illegal ATM operators follows similar raids conducted in Leeds earlier this year, alongside the West Yorkshire Police’s Digital Intelligence and Investigation Unit.
Decrypt attempted to contact the operators and manufacturers of Bitcoin ATMs operating in the UK.
No reply was received from General Bytes, one of the main manufacturers of Bitcoin ATMs in the UK and around the globe. General Bytes accounts for 25.2% of the global Bitcoin ATM market share and has the most ATM installations around the world.
Kwik-Bit, a Bitcoin ATM firm that previously operated in the London area, told Decrypt its ATM had closed down and is no longer operational. Other Bitcoin ATM operators listed in London did not reply, or couldn’t be reached through their listed numbers—some of which had been disconnected.
According to an FCA announcement from March 2022, no Bitcoin ATMs presently operating in the UK have been registered with the relevant authorities, meaning every Bitcoin ATM in the UK is operating illegally.
Mark Steward, Executive Director of Enforcement and Market Oversight at the FCA, said that “this operation, alongside last month’s action in Leeds, sends a clear message that we will continue to identify and disrupt unregistered crypto businesses in the UK.”
Bitcoin ATMs exploded in popularity in 2021 in lockstep with the cryptocurrency market surge of that year, which saw Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the broader crypto market cap ascend to all-time highs. Over 2,000 Bitcoin ATMs were being installed monthly around the globe during the summer of 2021.
However, that trend has since reversed, with 1,054 Bitcoin ATMs closing down between February and March of 2023 alone.
According to global data from CoinATMRadar, there are currently 1,469 Bitcoin ATMs operating in the European region, of which just 18 are operational in the UK. There are 32,164 Bitcoin ATMs in the United States alone, amounting to 86% of the worldwide figure.
Crypto in the UK
Current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Rishi Sunak, laid out a comprehensive plan to make the UK a “global crypto asset technology hub” in early 2022, during his time serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Since then, the UK parliament introduced the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, which extended police powers to make it easier to “seize, freeze and recover” cryptoassets in a bid to combat money laundering.
Several UK-based banks toughened their approach to crypto usage by their customers in the wake of the collapse of FTX last year, with many now refusing to process crypto purchases.