Europol, EU authorities take down crypto laundering site Bestmixer.io in first-ever such action
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Posted by: Brian Monroe
By Brian Monroe
May 22, 2019
European authorities have taken down what they are calling one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency mixing services, a virtual money laundering machine used to muddy the trail of $200 million in transactions to make it harder for investigators to track criminally-tinged digital assets – a historic move sending a message to dark web denizens everywhere.
Europol, the Dutch Fiscal Information and Investigation Service (FIOD) and authorities in Luxembourg last week attacked Bestmixer.io in the real and online worlds after a nearly year-long investigation, seizing six servers in the Netherlands and Luxembourg and taking the site itself offline.
Europol describes Bestmixer as “one of the world’s leading cryptocurrency mixing services,” one of the three largest mixing services for cryptocurrencies and offered services for mixing the cryptocurrencies bitcoins, bitcoin cash and litecoins.
The company even released a whimsical animated YouTube video with nearly 10,000 views detailing how mixing services work and the best way to ensure transactional anonymity, a roughly three-minute movie that is still up.
The takedown of the mixing site occurs after the U.S. and international authorities in recent years have teamed up to identify and crush many of the dark web’s largest darknet marketplaces and related virtual currency exchanges – operations that in many instances had little to no anti-money laundering (AML) compliance procedures in place.
In tandem, the announcement occurs just weeks after the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued guidance on crypto transactions and arrangements that trip AML rules, essentially stating that if you – as a person or company, including P2P transactions – take, move and morph crypto value to fiat currencies for others as a business, you are a money transmitter and must have a compliance program.
The action also occurs across a broader contextual and still-shifting template where multiple authorities in different jurisdictions around the globe continue to debate what crypto currencies truly are – money, securities or pipe dream – in anticipation of statements on the technology from the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) expected next month.
“Today’s Bestmixer seizure shows an increase in law enforcement activities on pure crypto-to-crypto services,” Dave Jevans, CipherTrace CEO, told CoinDesk.
“This follows on the heels of European AMLD5 regulations and the views expressed by US FinCEN that crypto-to-crypto services are considered to be money services businesses and must comply with those regulations. This is the first public seizure of a bitcoin mixing service, and shows that not only are dark marketplaces subject to criminal enforcement, but other services are as well.”
The service started in May 2018 and achieved a turnover of at least $200 million, roughly 27,000 bitcoins, in a year’s time and “guaranteed that the customers would remain anonymous,” according to investigators.
A cryptocurrency “tumbler or cryptocurrency mixing service is a service offered to mix potentially identifiable or ‘tainted’ cryptocurrency funds and pool them with others, so as to obscure the trail back to the fund's original source,” according to Europol, adding that users pay fees for the service, which they then receive as funds from a seemingly new, clean address.
Such a feature is a boon to criminals, fraudsters and scammers trying to force victims to pay ransoms in crypto coins while attempting to stymie law enforcement efforts to uncover their nefarious ties to the physical world through typically transparent blockchains.
“A mixing service will cut up a sum of Bitcoins into hundreds of smaller transactions and mixes different transactions from other sources for obfuscation and will pump out the input amount, minus a fee, to a certain output address,” said John Fokker, Head of Cyber Investigations for McAfee Advanced Threat Research, in a blog about the action.
“Mixing Bitcoins that are obtained legally is not a crime but, other than the mathematical exercise, there no real benefit to it,” he wrote. “The legality changes when a mixing service advertises itself as a success method to avoid various anti-money laundering policies via anonymity. This is actively offering a money laundering service.”
The takedown of the mixing site is a powerful, unprecedented move by EU authorities that are, like the U.S. and U.K., actively looking for money laundering mega hubs in the real and virtual worlds.
That made Bestmixer a very high-profile target: a crypto company actively and blatantly offering services to essentially launder and cleanse digital value.
The action is no doubt something criminals, scammers and crypto brigands of all stripes will take note.
Not only are global investigators targeting these illicit washing portals, they are aggressively capturing the data on users and other shifty sites, and sharing those details with law enforcement partners, to connections to larger illicit networks – and take them down.
Bestmixer.io Snapshot: Crypto mixing on demand, complete with a colored ‘mix power indicator’ to ensure strongest levels of anonymity
Here is how Bestmixer describes itself, on its now-defunct site and on a still-open YouTube video, which you can view here:
BestMixer.io is the bitcoin mixer or bitcoin tumbler, the service that complicates or makes almost impossible tracking of your transactions in bitcoin network.
Bitcoin mixer or bitcoin tumbler breaks connection between your old and new address sending money from you to other people and their money to you. So your transactions become anonymous.
BestMixer.io is doing its best to guarantee your privacy in the cryptocurrency ecosystem. ---
Protect your anonymity and the anonymity of your cryptocurrency assets with the help of BestMixer.IO!
BestMixer is a truly anonymous cryptocurrency mixer, a service which makes it impossible to track your transactions within cryptocurrency network.
When you send your coins to BestMixer.IO, you deposit them in the general pool; in their place you receive absolutely new set of coins, which are impossible to track.
In order to be able to use the service, you don't need an account, a password or an email address. Everything is incredibly simple and easy to understand.
Here is how it works. Simply press the Start Mix button and select the cryptocurrency you want to mix. If you have already used the service BestMixer.IO before, enter your BestMixer code, which you received at the first mix.
This is a guarantee that you will not receive your previous coins back, and you will also increase our personal discount. If it is your first mix, simply leave the field blank. Enter the recipient's address to which you would like to send anonymized coins.
You can enter two or more addresses as an additional security measure. When doing to, you can adjust percentage distribution of funds between the specified addresses. Select the assets type to mix.
BestMixer supports three types of assets, each one of them has its own unique qualities:
· “Alpha pool” consists of assets belonging to other clients.
· “Beta pool” is formed by large transactions of “Alpha pools,” private system assets and investors’ funds.
· “Gamma pool” contains exclusively private system assets and investors' coins.
Specify payment delay (the approximation is within a minute) for each address.
Make sure that the «Mix power indicator" is either green or blue. If it is not, try tweaking the mix settings, following the indicator recommendations.
For preliminary coin amount calculations, press the "Show commission calculator» button. When you have adjusted all the settings, and are ready for the next step, press the button "Continue."
Please read and agree with the Terms of Service, then click the "Mix my coins» button. Now you are viewing your order page.
First, you need to download the Guarantee letter and save your BestMixer code. Detailed information about the Guarantee letter and the purpose of the BestMixer code can be found in the FAQ.
Send your coins to the specified incoming address. Follow the status of your order; when the assets are deposited and all the conditions of mixing are met, the new coins will be transferred to the addresses you specified, and your anonymity will remain secure.
Stay safe with BestMixer.IO!
Mixed crypto coins had a ‘criminal origin’
Investigators knew they had to take down Bestmixer as many roads lead to information roadblocks at the site.
“Many of the mixed cryptocurrencies on Bestmixer.io had a criminal origin or destination,” Europol said. “In these cases, the mixer was probably used to conceal and launder criminal flows of money.”
The FIOD started the investigation in June 2018 with the support of the internet security company McAfee, noting that there could be more tendrils of the criminal enterprise to crush.
The Dutch FIOD stated it has “gathered information on all the interactions on this platform in the past year,” including IP-addresses, transaction details, bitcoin addresses and chat messages. “This information will now be analyzed by the FIOD in cooperation with Europol and intelligence packages will be shared with other countries.”