Over $5 million (£4 million) has been returned to victims of an international crypto scam uncovered by Greater Manchester Police (GMP).
According to a statement released by GMP, the force returned funds to 23 verified victims, while another 127 claims from various countries are being investigated by GMP officers working alongside partners in international law enforcement.
The scam was solved by the GMP six months ago, after $22.25 million (£16 million) was seized by specialist officers at the GMP Economic Crime Unit. According to the statement, intelligence led to the discovery of USB sticks containing “huge amounts” of Ethereum.
The scam targeted individuals from across the globe, with victims living in the UK, the US, China, Australia, Hong Kong and across Europe.
Breaking down the scam
Per the GMP, victims had deposited money into what they thought was an online savings and trading service that used Binance Smart Chain.
"The scammers operating the service waited until a significant amount of money had been deposited, before shutting down their website and transferring the funds into their own accounts. Unfortunately for them, the scammers did not disappear without a trace," the GMP said.
The police discovered that those orchestrating the scam had been in Manchester for a period of time, and once they were tracked down the GMP was able to recover a USB stick containing $9.5 million in stolen Ethereum.
An additional $12.7 million was found a few days later, in what the GMP describes as a “cryptograph safety deposit box.”
A 23-year-old male and 25-year-old female have been arrested for fraud and money laundering offenses. They have since been released under investigation pending further inquiries.
"This type of crime is increasing across the globe and criminals are getting savvier by finding ways to exploit the trend, in ways even the most experienced users can’t anticipate," said Detective Chief Inspector Joe Harrop. "The Economic and Cyber Crime Unit are working on a daily basis to tackle these growing number of cases in the digital and online world."
The GMP also said it believes "there may still be victims" relating to this scam, and urge those who believe they have been affected to contact them.
Crypto, crime and the UK
This is not the first time crypto-related criminal activity has reached the UK’s shores.
In June last year, the London Metropolitan Police (MET) seized $158 million worth of cryptocurrency after investigating a string of money laundering offenses. One month later, the MET seized almost $250 million in illicit cryptocurrency.
According to a series of freedom of information requests, British police have seized a total of $435 million in illicit Bitcoin as of January 2022.