Cryptocurrency crime trends in 2023: decrease in illicit activity and the rise of stablecoins

22.01.2024

 

 

In 2023, there was a significant reduction in the value attributed to illicit cryptocurrency addresses, amounting to $24.2 billion. This decline contrasts with the previous year’s estimate of illicit transaction volume in 2022, which increased from $20.6 billion to $39.6 billion. The upsurge in 2022 was mainly a result of identifying previously unknown active addresses hosted by sanctioned services, as outlined in the Chainalysis report: “2024 Crypto Crime Trends.” Alongside the absolute decrease in the value of illicit activity, the estimated share of all crypto transaction volumes associated with illicit activities also decreased from 0.42% in 2022 to 0.34% in 2023.

A notable trend in cryptocurrency-related criminal activities is the shifting preference for assets. Bitcoin, once the favored choice among cybercriminals due to its high liquidity, has been surpassed by stablecoins for illicit transactions. This shift aligns with the overall growth in stablecoins’ share of all crypto activity, including legitimate transactions. Nevertheless, Bitcoin maintains its dominance in specific forms of crypto crime, such as darknet market sales and ransomware extortion.

 

Crypto Scamming

In 2023, both crypto scamming and hacking revenues experienced significant declines, decreasing by 29.2% and 54.3%, respectively. Scammers have pivoted towards romance scams, targeting individuals and establishing relationships to promote fraudulent investment opportunities. Although reported crypto investment scams in the US have risen, on-chain metrics indicate a global decline since 2021. Crypto hacking, being more challenging to conceal, with unusual outflows easily detectable by industry observers, saw a decrease in stolen funds primarily driven by a reduction in decentralized finance (DeFi) hacking, suggesting potential improvements in security practices.

 

Ransomware and Darknet Markets

Contrary to the overall trend, ransomware and darknet markets witnessed revenue growth in 2023. This growth followed a decline in revenue in 2022 attributed to the shutdown of Hydra, the dominant darknet market at that time. While no single market has taken its place, the sector as a whole is rebounding, approaching revenue levels seen in 2021.

 

Sanctions

A noteworthy trend in illicit transaction volume is the prominence of sanctions-related transactions, constituting $14.9 billion or 61.5% of all illicit transaction volume in 2023. This is primarily driven by cryptocurrency services sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) or located in jurisdictions subject to sanctions where US sanctions are not enforced. While some of this volume is associated with illicit purposes, it also includes activity from average crypto users residing in these jurisdictions. Crypto platforms subject to US or UK jurisdiction face compliance concerns, as exposure to sanctioned entities like Garantex, a Russia-based exchange sanctioned for money laundering facilitation, poses risks.

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