2022 has seen the cryptocurrency market suffer from extreme market volatility, strict regulations, crypto company failures and some of the largest on-chain hacks in the industry’s history.
However, physical Bitcoin theft has increased dramatically as criminals become aware of the lucrative nature of digital assets and the not-so-easy yet easy and irrevocable manner in which they can be separated from their owners.
According to GitHub, more than 20 such incidents occurred between January and December of this year, including a number of attacks targeting crypto infrastructure, such as the theft of Bitcoin ATMs, mining hardware, cryptocurrency owners being kidnapped or extorted for crypto assets, and so on.
Physical crypto attackers had targeted India, Belgium, New York, and Canada, with the first attack of the year taking place in Belgium on January 16 when Memphis police caught a group of people on camera stealing a Bitcoin ATM from a gas station after ramming a truck through the windows.
With three attacks, India has been one of the hardest hit countries by the attackers. On February 2, at least eight people were arrested in Pune’s Pimpri Chinchwad, including a police officer, for allegedly kidnapping a man in order to extort bitcoin cryptocurrency worth Rs 300 crore ($50 million USD). The next day, an auto parts businessman brings a suitcase full of $260K in cash to conduct an in-person crypto trade, only to be beaten and robbed by 8 men in Surat.
A woman constable from the Pune cyber police was suspended in March for threatening and attempting to extort an unspecified amount of cryptocurrency from an electronic goods dealer.
The rise in attacks on cryptocurrency owners, in which victims are kidnapped or extorted in exchange for crypto assets, is particularly concerning.
On January 21, one of the largest bitcoin attacks occurred in Belgium, when three suspects in a brutal home invasion in Hoboken were arrested for attempting to obtain 3 million euros in bitcoins. Similarly, four Asian men were fined Dh1.7 million for assaulting a bitcoin trader and stealing the same amount from his home in the UAE.
OIn March, a South Florida businessman claimed he was ambushed by an armed robber who stole his cryptocurrency wallet and a high-end watch.
Pulls a gun, run towards me, put it onto my face and tells me, ‘Get on the ground! Give me everything you got!
said the businessman. The same month, in New York, a crypto expert was shot 5 times by a robber seeking Richard Mille watch.
Similarly, in September, a 19-year-old man was held at gunpoint, assaulted, and bound during what was supposed to be a Bitcoin transaction in Canada.
In Thailand, two Russian husbands and wives reported being extorted by six foreign men to transfer 1.8 million bitcoins. Similarly, in Sweden, a couple was tied up, beaten, and subjected to an armed robbery in their home, forcing them to transfer cryptocurrency.
A recent last week robbery in Moscow saw a Russian businessman has made a statement to police, claiming that masked men kidnapped him from his luxury car and intimidated him into revealing the key to his digital wallet, which contained 250 bitcoins (roughly $17 million).
The pattern indicates that high-profile cryptocurrency holders and traders are primarily targeted. Many physical cryptocurrency robberies result from criminals targeting people who advertise cryptocurrency-related wealth, with the attackers being aware of the victim’s asset value.