The Department of Justice has arrested a man who allegedly was running a bitcoin mixing service on the dark web that helped criminals launder bitcoin transactions. ZDNet reported that this was the first case the Department of Justice brought against a bitcoin mixer.
The Department of Justice stated that Larry Harmon, from Ohio, was arrested for his operation of Helix, which the Department of Justice describes as a “Dark-net based cryptocurrency laundering service.” He was charged with money-laundering conspiracy, operating an unlicensed money transmitting business and conducting money transmission without a D.C. License.
According to the indictment, Harmon operated Helix from 2014 to 2017. Helix functioned as a bitcoin “mixer” or “tumblr,” allowing customers, for a fee, to send bitcoin to designated recipients in a manner that was designed to conceal the source or owner of the bitcoin. Helix was linked to and associated with “Grams,” a Darknet search engine also run by Harmon. Harmon advertised Helix to customers on the Darknet as a way to conceal transactions from law enforcement.
The indictment alleges that Helix moved over 350,000 bitcoin – valued at over $300 million at the time of the transactions – on behalf of customers, with the largest coming from Darknet markets. Helix partnered with the Darknet market AlphaBay to provide laundering services for AlphaBay customers. AlphaBay was one of the largest Darknet marketplaces in operation at the time it was seized by law enforcement in July of 2017.
When I hear the phrase “money-laundering”, it makes me think of physical money being sneakily transferred through various businesses and/or bank accounts. I had not considered that bitcoin could also be laundered, but it appears it is possible. I think that this precedent – that you can get arrested for laundering bitcoin – could make those who are currently doing it consider stopping.
Another interesting thing about this case is that it makes it clear that bitcoin isn’t really private. There are apparently ways for law enforcement to track where the bitcoins go, how many bitcoins go were transferred, and the people involved in transferring it.
Steam announced that it will no longer support Bitcoin as a payment method. This news is going to affect players who were purchasing Steam games with Bitcoin, but doesn’t appear to change things for those using other methods of payment.
Steam says it will no longer support Bitcoin as a payment method on their platform due to high fees and volatility in the value of Bitcoin. In the announcement, Steam points out: “Historically, the value of Bitcoin has been volatile, but the degree of volatility has become extreme in the last few months, losing as much as 25% in value over a period of days.”
This creates a problem for customers trying to purchase games with Bitcoin. When checking out on Steam, a customer will transfer x amount of Bitcoin for the cost of the game, plus y amount of Bitcoin to cover the transaction fee charged by the Bitcoin network. The value of Bitcoin is only guaranteed for a certain period of time, so if the transaction doesn’t complete within that window of time, then the amount of Bitcoin needed to cover the transaction can change. The amount it can change has been increasing recently to a point where it can be significantly different.
Steam points out that when that situation happens, they either have to refund original payment to the user to or ask the user to transfer more funds to cover the remaining balance. The user gets hit with a Bitcoin transaction fee either way. As a result, Steam says it has become untenable to support Bitcoin as a payment option.
Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that started out as a technological curiosity, has grown rapidly in the last couple years. Bitcoin adoption has been on the rise, and this has prompted the development of tools and services that help Bitcoin users convert their digital money into real-world cash. Coinbase, one of the larger Bitcoin players in the market, described itself from the beginning as a “PayPal-like” service, where users could log in and convert Bitcoin to cash, or vice versa.
Expanding its efforts to make Bitcoin exchanges even easier, Coinbase recently announced it will be adding support for PayPal and credit cards. From a Coinbase e-mail sent earlier this week:
One of our objectives at Coinbase is to add as many funding mechanisms as possible to make exchanging digital currency easy. As a step in that direction, Coinbase now accepts PayPal (for bitcoin sells) and credit cards (for bitcoin buys).
It’s worth noting that Coinbase isn’t using both of these new services for everything. As the e-mail states. Coinbase users will be able to use PayPal when selling Bitcoin, and they’ll be able to use credit cards for Bitcoin purchases. Previously, Coinbase only conducted transactions thru registered bank accounts.
These new payment systems are currently in beta, but they are accessible to most Coinbase users.
Bitcoin. It’s the cryptocurrency some of us love, and some of us hate. It’s demise is being constantly predicted by tech pundits. Yet, it continues to endure. Despite what the naysayers think, there are plenty of companies trying to find ways to expand the reach of Bitcoin. Two such companies have now teamed up to release a new Bitcoin debit card.
Bitcoin exchange Coinbase recently joined forces with payment processor Shift. Together, they’re launching a Bitcoin debit card that carries the Visa logo:
Whether your currency is new or old shouldn’t matter. Bitcoin is now accepted online and offline at over 38 million merchants worldwide. Case closed.
The process is fairly simple. Load some Bitcoin into your Coinbase account. Sign up for the debit card thru Shift and then link the two accounts. Once everything’s done, you can now pay for virtually anything with Bitcoin where Visa debit cards are accepted.
If you’d like to make it easier to spend your own Bitcoin like “real money,” keep in mind that the Shift debit card does carry some fees. For example, there’s a $10 fee for the issuance of a plastic card (which also goes for replacement cards), there’s a $2.50 fee for using the Bitcoin card at an ATM, and a 3% fee for all international transactions. However, there are no annual fees or fees on domestic transactions. However, both Coinbase and Shift reserve the right to start charging fees on domestic transactions in the future.
You can learn more about the new Bitcoin debit card at the Coinbase blog.
Bitcoin is lauded by many as the currency of the future. Supporters say the cryptocurrency is superior to the dollar because Bitcoin is decentralized, allowing the system to stay honest as it’s constantly being authenticated by everyone who uses it. Bitcoin has also developed a bit of a reputation as being the currency of choice for illicit goods and services, mainly because Bitcoin transactions can be difficult to trace, making a true “anonymous” transaction much easier.
But despite all of its futurist appeal, Bitcoin is still vulnerable to some very old fashioned problems, as one man recently learned when he was robbed at gunpoint for $1,100 worth of Bitcoin. It might seem impossible that someone could be robbed in the real world for something that’s essentially virtual. But many Bitcoin users will meet up in person to ensure their electronic transaction goes thru smoothly. It was during one such meeting that a Brooklyn man discovered trading in Bitcoin can be just as dangerous as using cash.
No details have been made public about the specifics of the transaction. But the man went to a prearranged destination and met with another man to make the transaction. There, he was led to a parked car in order to finalize the deal. Once inside, the other man allegedly pulled a gun and ordered the first man to send the Bitcoin. The robber then stole the man’s cell phone and took off.
Fortunately, no one was hurt during the robbery. But the incident shows why it’s important to be safe during any kind of personal transaction, regardless of the currency being tended. Always meet others in neutral, public places such as coffee shops or even police stations. If you’re trying to make an arrangement with someone else and they refuse to do this, they’re probably up to no good.
AirBaltic has become the world’s first airline to accept Bitcoin as payment for some of its tickets. The company is Latvia’s national airline. It is now possible for people to use Bitcoin to buy an airline ticket to 60 destinations in Europe, Middle East, Russia, and the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States).
Those who want to use Bitcoin to pay for their airline tickets must make their purchase through the airBaltic website. The prices on their website are listed in Euros. When a customer uses Bitcoin as payment, the Bitcoins are automatically converted into Euros at whatever the current exchange rate happens to be.
There are some limitations. The Bitcoin payment option is only available when a person purchases the cheapest tickets. Those tickets are called airBaltic Basic Class.
The airBaltic fleet of planes consists of 25 aircraft. It includes 5 Boeing 737-500, 8 Boeing 737-300, and 12 Bombardier Q400Next planes. The Latvian state is the primary shareholder in airBaltic, with 99.8% of stock. I’ve never heard of this airline before. It appears that, if nothing else, being the first airline to accept Bitcoin as payment is resulting in quite a bit of publicity for airBaltic!
The Parliament of Canada has approved the world’s first national Bitcoin law. It is the first official law that concerns the treatment of Bitcoin financial transactions under national anti-money laundering law.
Bill C-31 was an amendment to Canada’s Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA). In other words, the bill amended, or made a change to, an existing Canadian anti-money laundering law. Here are some key points of the law:
Regulates Bitcoin as an MSB (money services business): “Bitcoin dealing, more specifically referred to as ‘dealing in virtual currencies’ in Bill C-31, will be subject to the record keeping, verification procedures, suspicious transaction reporting and registration requirements under the PCMLTFA as a money services business.”
Does not define “dealing in virtual currencies”: “The phrase ‘dealing in virtual currencies’ was left undefined and it is not known what the defined term will encompass in terms of business activities once defined by regulation.”
Registration with FINTRAC (the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada): “Bitcoin dealers will be required to register with FINTRAC and if successfully registered, to implement a complete anti-money laundering compliance regime.”
Captures foreign Bitcoin companies targeting Canada: In short, the bill extends to entities that have a place of business in Canada and also to entities that have a place of business outside Canada (but who direct services at persons in Canada).
Prohibits banks from opening accounts for Bitcoin entities if unregistered: “Under Bill C-31, banks will be prohibited from opening and maintaining correspondent banking relationships with Bitcoin dealers that are not registered with FINTRAC.”
Another key point to understand is that Canada’s Governor General gave Royal Assent to Bill C-31. Under Canadian law, that on it’s own does not necessarily mean that the bill instantaneously goes into force. Certain parts of the bill come in force on dates that were set in the bill. Other portions will come in force on a date determined by the Governor General.