The blockchain industry has been explored and used in many sectors and by many countries for many different reasons, some for good and some for evil. However, a most intriguing and possibly unbelievable use for the blockchain is in tracking criminal activities on the blockchain.
An Open Source intelligence (OSINT) investigator by the name of Ben Strickland tracks crypto transactions using OSINT techniques which are capable of linking such transactions to terrorist or other organisations that may have carried out the transactions.
Strickland described a situation in which he found out a cryptocurrency address used by jihadists to solicit funds on social media was associated with a South African kidnapper, saying any data on Youtube, blockchain data, satellite imagery or social media posts can be used as open source data to track criminal organisations or individuals online.
Asked on his decision to go into criminal investigation using the blockchain is due to the increasing cases of cryptocrimes in recent times. He mentioned the website Bitcioinwhoswho which uses bitcoin addresses to fish out scammers, saying at least 10 cases of sexual extortion alone are reported on the wbsite daily.
“It is important to realize that this is what the power of the blockchain is supposed to be. As much as it is a free market, unregulated and decentralised, the power of the blockchain should be that someone like me, from the comfort of my home on my laptop, with no formal training, can identify any wrongdoing on the blockchain.”
In the course of his investigation, Strickland has found many scammers online including Facebook users. He narrated how he searched the website and many linked Facebook accounts that work together to scam innocent users. The accounts had pictures of the bitcoin addresses they use to scam users which Strickland said he found on the blockchain with suspicious transaction histories.
For a certain Facebook account, he said:
“I looked through the alleged Facebook account. It was pictures of the guy and his girlfriend from the UK, but he was cashing his bitcoin out in South African Rand. In other images he was posting pictures of handfuls of US dollars and statements on ‘how I can make you the next bitcoin millionaire.’”
Strickland had earlier reported a web page called Sadaqcoins which was created solely as a crowdfunding platform to buy weapons and fund the training of jihadist militia. He has published an article on his “open source” investigation of jihadists, scammers and kidnappers.
In the article, he stated that anonymity of cryptocurrency transactions is what makes them suitable for criminals but his methods remove such anonymity and so can trace any fraudulent activities on the blockchain.