Date of Award

Spring 6-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department/Program

International Crime and Justice

Language

English

First Advisor

Mangai Natarajan

Second Reader

Marie-Helen Maras

Abstract

Cryptocurrencies are private, decentralized currencies that operate via the Internet and have attracted criminals because of the convenience and virtual anonymity they offer. While there are many descriptive accounts of cryptocurrencies and their use both in legal and illegal operations, to date there is no empirical research to understand the use of cryptocurrencies in transnational crime operations, specifically why transnational criminals may find them attractive to either conduct business or to launder their illicit proceeds. Using the environmental criminological framework, this study analyzed 100 cases of cryptocurrency use in transnational crime activities identified through various secondary sources, including online newspaper articles and publicly available court case information. Essentially this study used both quantitative and qualitative analysis to examine the ways in which cryptocurrencies facilitate transnational crimes. The findings indicate that criminals have been using cryptocurrencies to conceal the enormous amounts of money they are receiving for their crimes, specifically money laundering, drug trafficking (illicit drug sales), and terrorism financing. It was found that offenders can conduct business, launder money, and make a profit by using cryptocurrencies to facilitate their crimes, creating for crime opportunities permitted by cryptocurrencies. These opportunities include the ease of floating from one crime to another and using cryptocurrencies to cover offenders’ tracks, where cryptocurrencies can transact, launder, and conceal all in one. It was found that offenders gravitate towards using bitcoin to facilitate their operations, most likely due to its popularity and reliability. When looking at the crime of money laundering and illicit drug sales specifically, it was found that offenders can generate higher operation amounts, spanning into billions of dollars, all while evading detection. With the assumption that transnational criminals are rational beings, money laundering using cryptocurrencies has enormous benefits with these high operation amounts. This coupled with the low chances of being caught by law enforcement, makes money laundering a feasible crime where the benefits far outweigh the risks. This exploratory research is innovative and imperative to expanding academic knowledge on the evolution of crime with the use of cryptocurrencies and assisting in reducing the opportunities cryptocurrencies allow in transnational crime operations.

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