Some of the very first associations that the wider public made with Bitcoin upon learning about it were fairly focused on its potentially nefarious connotations. That being said, Bitcoin can still be used for criminal activities. This is most noticeable in the recent wanna cry ransomware attacks and fileless ransomware attacks. So does this mean -like a comment on this linked article suggested- that soon criminals will move beyond ransomware to straight up kidnap and ransom in the physical world?
Well, maybe. If someone is willing to accept any form of payment for any legal or illegal deal, then that currency has worth. Bitcoin would be no different in this case than say, cash or bearer bonds. Both of these are extremely anonymous forms of payment, more so than Bitcoin even.
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Ransoms being paid in dead drops or trades means that a criminal would be exposing themselves to being followed after the exchange takes place. A wire transfer to a bank means that they would be immediately identified, so Bitcoin being moved to a new address would mean that this would be delayed. However, it would not be untraceable.
Let’s put ourselves in the hypothetical that we are trying to negotiate the release of a hostage, and their kidnappers demanded payment in Bitcoin. This means that we have some time to “buy bitcoin” since most probably would not have stores of Bitcoin ready for kidnapping situations. If it is a large enough amount, we need to wait for verification from an exchange, and in some countries we would need to report these assets. Some countries also monitor the blockchain for large payments made. Law enforcement may already have pegged this situation before the payment is ever even made.
With the help of law enforcement or others, the public ledger nature of Bitcoin would mean that we could start to build a strategy to try to keep track of these funds, even as they undoubtedly will go through tumblers and mixers. Let’s not forget again, the likelihood that this much money exchanged hands already has probably tipped off the cops if we have not by this point.
There is also the possibility that the -probably uneducated in Bitcoin- payer of the ransom does not know how many satoshi per byte to pay for a quick confirmation or even one at all. Delayed or cancelled payments does not only spell disaster for the victim, but also is problematic for the kidnappers. Let’s remember, these people want money, not to feed, hide, or abuse and kill the victim.
While Bitcoin might provide security by not having to be present at an exchange or dead drop, it has a whole host of other problems. I do not see how Bitcoin would be easier or even more appealing to higher level criminals like this over cash or some other commodity. Too few people know about it, Blockchain analysts work tirelessly to connect addresses to personal information, and for larger sums of money it is just not as practical as other payment methods.
I am not saying that criminals do not use or will not use Bitcoin -because they do-, but I do not think we have to worry about kidnappers asking for ransoms only in Bitcoin in the future. In the end, they want money, not Bitcoin. That is how criminals always have operated. They want easily laundered and liquid monetary assets. Bitcoin may not be the most practical option for them in such a situation.
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