Updated: Apr 29, 2020
Given the pseudonymity and increasing availability of cryptocurrency, cryptocurrency is becoming more appealing than fiat currency as a response to the demands of criminals worldwide. Incidents of crypto-crime are growing in countries such as Ukraine, South Africa, Russia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Australia, the Netherlands, and the United States, to name a few. Crypto-ransom is a growing problem challenging law enforcement around the world. Too often, legislation regarding the unlawful use of these new digital currencies has not kept up with the technology and ease of access by the criminal community.
Criminals generally target people in countries with little or no jurisdiction over Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies (altcoins). Crypto-ransom demanders feel they can operate relatively anonymously without observation. Law enforcement advises families not to meet the ransom demands of captors. Even if it is paid, there is no guarantee that the victim will be released. While Crypto-ransom abductors tend to target individuals with access to large amounts of cryptocurrency, there have been attacks where the victim, and the victim’s family, have no cryptocurrency holdings and are at a loss on how to meet ransom demands.
The first widely reported crypto-ransom case occurred on January 20, 2015, when Ryan Piercy, a Canadian national living in San José, Costa Rica was kidnapped and held chained to a tree for most of his five weeks of capture. He was released after a ransom of approximately $500,000 worth of bitcoin was paid.
Piercy is a public figure who was the General Manager of the Association of Costa Rica (ARCR) and Casa Canada Group, a company that provided services in the corporate, property, investment, insurance, and mortgage administration markets. He had been a long-time advocate for other expat investors and negotiated on their behalf in the breakup of Banco ELCA by government regulators in 2004. The investigation into the kidnapping determined that the alleged kidnappers used the Dark Web to operate and communicate their illegal activities. However, police have yet to identify the perpetrators and make arrests.
Not all cryptocurrency-related crimes are perpetrated by evil members of the Dark Web community. Kidnappers come in all flavors. The ringleader of this next particular gang of criminals was Abraham Loera Acota, a 23-year old popular motivational speaker and marketing entrepreneur. It is the case involving a lawyer in Chihuahua, Mexico, Thania Denisse Media Rodriguez.
She was kidnapped as she was leaving her downtown office in March 2018. Her relatives paid the amount of bitcoin her captors demanded. Before she was released, police were able to locate and arrest Rodriguez’s five kidnappers. The ransom was recovered at the time of the arrest together with a handgun, three vehicles, and the mobile phones used to negotiate with Rodriguez’s relatives.