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Is Israel Becoming a Breeding Ground for Crypto Criminals?

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Israel Crypto world
Israel Crypto world

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With the increase in adoption and market value of cryptocurrencies over the years, there has been an almost proportional increase in crypto crimes. So much so that crypto exchange hacks are not strange to the crypto verse anymore. The best cryptocurrency exchanges have suffered data breaches that have led to the loss of millions of dollars in cryptocurrency, accounting for violent volatile swings in prices of the digital assets. While there have been no traces to a particular malicious source, crypto crime news in recent times is increasingly, and worryingly, coming from Israel.

Earlier this week, about 3 years after popular exchange change Bitfinex was hacked, Finance Magnates reported the arrest of two Israeli brothers who are allegedly connected with the breach of the top exchange, and other crypto-related phishing attacks. Per the report, Eli Gigi and his younger brother Assaf Gigi were suspected to be responsible for the malicious breaches that led to the loss of about $72 million worth of cryptocurrency from Bitfinex.

Bitfinex 2016: What Went Down

The news of the infamous 2016 Bitfinex hack came as a shocker for crypto-enthusiasts- as Bitfinex was one of the most popular exchanges in the game, known in the cryosphere for having deep liquidity in the U.S. dollar/bitcoin currency pair. On August 2, 2016, Zane Tackett, Director of Community & Product Development for Bitfinex, announced the rattling news that 119,756 bitcoin, worth about $72 million, had been stolen from users’ accounts. 

Israeli Crypto-Phishing Bros

Following reports of movement of some of the stolen Bitfinex funds earlier in June, the crypto community was eagerly awaiting news of a red-handed catch of the hackers behind the colossal theft. Although nothing has been confirmed yet, an Israeli police spokesperson reportedly told Finance Magnates that Eli Gigi and his younger brother Assaf Gigi netted tens of millions of dollars from the hack.

The duo allegedly created credential-stealing clones of major online cryptocurrency exchanges and bitcoin wallets, sending the phishing sites to Telegram groups and other cryptocurrency-related communities. According to comments from the Israeli police, the case is currently being investigated by “police cyber units in several countries”, since the victims of the hack are mostly EU and US citizens.

Isreali Name in Crypto Mud

Beyond the two Israeli brothers who like to steal cryptos, more cases of crypto crime in Israel are raising a lot of brows. The recurrent frequency of dark crypto activities in the country is leading many to believe that Israel is fast becoming a breeding ground for vile crypto criminals. Earlier in April, an indictment was filed against another crypto-stealing Israeli Afek Zarad, charging him with the theft of 26 million Shekels (about $7.3 million) worth of Dash, or roughly 1% of the current DASH supply available. 

The case, while still inconclusive, had the Dash community on edge, and rightly so. With 1% of their choice crypto in limbo, there were fears about price crashes for the currency. The Bitfinex hack led to the loss of less than 1%, yet it still affected the market prices of Bitcoin then. The Dash case could have been just another crypto crime on the block, until news of another Israeli crypto stint surfaced, and this time with a global scope. On April 11, an Israeli woman, Ravid Yosef, 36, was indicted in absentia in the Southern District of New York for allegedly committing bank fraud in connection with the operation of an illicit cryptocurrency payment processing company.

Shortly after, on May 6, Israeli police arrested two men allegedly behind an affiliate marketing scheme for illicit purchases on the dark web. The pair, identified as Michael Phan and Yonatan Fingel, reportedly charged commissions on all purchases made on the website. They received payment in cryptocurrency and other virtual currency, allegedly totaling over $15 million.

Bad Press or Loose Regulations? 

Israel is an active participant in the crypto world with lots of crypto enthusiasts who conduct ICOs, open crypto exchanges and other crypto activities. Currently, Israel has more than 60 crypto companies encouraged by the government. The country even considered launching its own cryptocurrency in 2017.

However, precise crypto regulation has not been established yet. This free rein could be the reason why crypto crime is thriving in the country, but then again, crypto criminals are everywhere. Where there is money, there is bound to be shady people willing to do dubious things for it, Tel Aviv or no. 

The anonymous nature of crypto transactions is music to the ears of criminals, which explains why world governments are taking active steps to implement regulations that can reduce the risk of channeling cryptocurrency for criminal uses. 

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