In brief

  • The scammers tricked people into investing in what they thought was a Binance Smart Chain service
  • Manchester police found the scammers holding USB sticks containing millions of dollars of ETH

A UK police force is looking to return £16 million ($22 million) in stolen cryptocurrency, including a whopping £6.85 million ($9.4 million) in Ethereum recovered from a single encrypted USB drive.

Greater Manchester Police's Economic Crime Unit retrieved the cryptocurrency after smashing an online scam. According to a press release from the force, the scam saw victims from the UK, U.S., Europe, China, Australia, and Hong Kong duped into depositing money into an online savings and trading service that purported to be built on Binance Smart Chain.

Instead, the scammers waited until a "significant amount of money" had been deposited before diverting the funds into their own cryptocurrency wallets and shutting down the website.

After receiving intelligence that the perpetrators of the scheme had been in Manchester, the police arrested a 23-year-old male and a 25-year-old female for fraud and money laundering offenses. The pair have since been released under investigation.

The police were also able to track down "90% of the cryptocurrency stolen", with one encrypted USB stick containing over $9 million in Ethereum and a "Cryptograph safety deposit box" containing $12.7 million. The police did not specify whether the deposit box contained Ethereum or other cryptocurrencies.

Greater Manchester Police has asked anyone who believes they've been a victim of the scam to contact them at OpGabbro@gmp.police.uk. Those who do should provide the name of the service they invested in, the law enforcement agency to which they reported the crime, as well as wallet addresses and documentation to prove ownership of any stolen funds.

Crypto scams on the rise

Cryptocurrency scams have soared in recent months, with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission reporting that during a six-month period between October 2020 and March 2021, consumers lost $82 million to crypto scams—ten times the amount reported in the same period a year earlier.

At the time, the FTC noted that crypto scams increase as crypto prices rise.

Even seasoned crypto users aren't immune to scams. One victim of the Manchester scam who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrency described himself as an "experienced blockchain professional" who had used crypto for years. Earlier this month, the founder of an NFT project lost 16 CryptoPunks NFTs to a scammer, while last year a long-term Bitcoin holder claimed to have lost 1,400 BTC (then worth $16 million, and now an eye-watering $64 million) to an Electrum wallet phishing scam.

It's a dangerous world out there. Stay safe.