In July 2021, specialist police officers in Manchester swooped on an international cryptocurrency scam, seizing USB sticks and an online safe containing £16m worth of digital coins, mostly ethereum.

A month earlier, Leicestershire police had confiscated 10 types of cryptocurrency after raiding the home of a drug dealer who used digital assets to buy and sell class A drugs.

Both operations pale in comparison to the Metropolitan police’s record crypto haul of the same year, worth £180m. But all three, and many more besides, are part of a spreading crypto-crimewave laid bare today by a series of freedom of information requests.

The Observer requested data from the 45 regional police services in the UK asking for a breakdown of cryptocurrency seizures since 2017. The information sent back by the 27 forces that responded reveals a big shift: there has been a significant increase in the number of raids, and a proliferation in the types…

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