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Criminal cryptocurrency ‘whales’ amassed $25 billion worth of assets in 2021

Visual representation of the digital cryptocurrency bitcoin

Chesnot/Getty Images

  • Criminal crypto “whales” hold around $25 billion worth of assets in 2021, a new report from Chainalysis showed.
  • That amount — held by 4,068 wallets — represents about 3.7% of all crypto whales.
  • Most of these assets came from the darknet market or via scams. 

Criminal cryptocurrency “whales” held around $25 billion worth of assets in 2021, a new report from crypto analytics firm Chainalysis showed.

That amount — held by 4,068 wallets — represents about 3.7% of all crypto whales.

Crypto whales flagged by the firm are private wallets that hold $1 million or more worth of digital assets that have received more than 10% of their funds from illicit addresses.

Of the wallets, 1,361 of them received 90%-100% of assets from illicit addresses. 

Criminal "whales" by share of all funds received from illicit addressesCriminal “whales” by share of all funds received from illicit addresses, 2021

Chainalysis

Chainalysis identified the darknet market as the most common source, followed by funds netted through scams, robbery, fraud, and ransomware. 

Source of illicit funds received by criminal "whales"Source of illicit funds received by criminal “whales,” 2021

Chainalysis

Chainalysis said it was able to track the activities of 768 criminal whales whose wallets had enough activity to make a strong estimate of their location. Much of the illegal activity took place in Russia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, according to the firm’s analysis.

“Time zones of course only allow us to estimate longitudinal location, so it’s possible some of these criminal whales are based in other countries,” the firm said in the report. 

Total weekly criminal balances by crime type, 2021Total weekly criminal balances by crime type, 2021

Chainalysis

The volume of crypto crimes has risen with the size of the market. Crypto had a record-breaking 2021, rising to a total market capitalization of $3 trillion in November before plunging back down to earth. 

Chainalysis in January reported that while crypto-based crimes hit a new all-time high in 2021, jumping 80% from 2020, total crypto transaction volume also ballooned 550% to $15.8 trillion. 

The firm noted law enforcement’s growing ability to seize crypto from criminals, pointing to the Justice Department’s recovery of $2.3 million worth of crypto from DarkSide ransomware operators responsible for the Colonial Pipeline attack, and the seizure by the IRS of over $3.5 billion worth of crypto last year.

“Investigation of criminal whales represents a significant opportunity for government agencies around the world to continue their string of successful seizures, and bring to justice the biggest beneficiaries of cryptocurrency-based crime,” the firm said in its report. 

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