Oct. 7 (UPI) -- The Justice Department has announced the launch of a new national enforcement team to investigate crimes involving cryptocurrencies, in particular those perpetrated by virtual currency exchanges, money launderers and hackers who demand it as payment in their ransomware schemes.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced the creation of the department's new National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team on Wednesday in a statement, stating it will draw upon the department's expertise in cyber and money laundering to strengthen their capacity "to dismantle the financial entities that enable criminal actors to flourish -- and quite frankly to profit -- from abusing cryptocurrency platforms."
"As the technology advances, so too must the department evolve with it so that we're poised to root out abuse on these platforms and ensure user confidence in these systems," she said.
Cryptocurrencies are based on blockchain technology that decentralizes control to a dispersed network, which makes it attractive to malicious actors, especially for scams and to launder money.
In the past year, the Justice Department has brought charges for crimes involving cryptocurrencies against numerous people, including Glenn Arcaro who pleaded guilty in early September for his involvement in BitConnect, a cryptocurrency investment scheme, which defrauded investors in the United States and abroad of more than $2 billion.
Because of its decentralized nature, cryptocurrency is also widely demanded for as payment in ransomware attacks.
During the Biden administration, the United States and supply-chain companies have been victimized primarily to Russian hackers who attack their cyber infrastructure with malware and demand a ransom worth millions in bitcoin, a cryptocurrency, for the ability to control their services once again.
According to Sen. Gary Peters, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, more than $412 million in cryptocurrencies were paid to cybercriminals last year, representing an increase of %150 from the year prior.
The Justice Department said the NCET will work to "deter, disrupt, investigate and prosecute criminal misuse of cryptocurrency," as well as recover illicit proceeds of those crimes.
The use of cryptocurrency for criminal endeavors is wide, from money laundering to drugs and weapons sales, so the NCET "will foster the development of expertise in cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies across all aspects of the department's work," the Justice Department said.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite said the Criminal Division was already a leader in investigating and prosecuting the criminal misuse of cryptocurrencies.
"The creation of this team will build on this leadership by combining and coordinating expertise across the division in this continuously evolving field to investigate and prosecute the fraudulent misuse, illegal laundering and other criminal activities involving cryptocurrencies," Polite said.