As scrutiny of cryptocurrency expands, Justice Department forms new enforcement unit

The new team will investigate and prosecute "criminal misuses of cryptocurrency."

Julian Dossett Writer
Julian is a staff writer at CNET. He's covered a range of topics, such as tech, travel, sports and commerce. His past work has appeared at print and online publications, including New Mexico Magazine, TV Guide, Mental Floss and NextAdvisor with TIME. On his days off, you can find him at Isotopes Park in Albuquerque watching the ballgame.
Julian Dossett
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As the US government continues to expand its scrutiny of cryptocurrency , the Department of Justice has hatched a new unit dedicated to its policing. The National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team, introduced Thursday by Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco, will investigate and prosecute "criminal misuses of cryptocurrency, particularly crimes committed by virtual currency exchanges, mixing and tumbling services and money laundering infrastructure actors." 

The NCET will draw on expertise from the DOJ Criminal Division's Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, its Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and other sections within the DOJ Criminal Division. 

"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," Monaco said in the announcement. 

Read moreThe history of hacking ransoms and cryptocurrency

The announcement details the crypto-criminal activities of greatest interest to the government, which include ransomware payments, money laundering and illegal money services as well as cryptocurrencies' use in "dark markets" to pay for illegal drugs, weapons and hacking tools. The announcement doesn't include details about staffing or budget. The DOJ didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The launch of the NCET comes in the wake of the US Treasury sanctions on SUEX, a Russian crypto exchange it has accused of "facilitating financial transactions for ransomware actors."

MLAR's Digital Currency Initiative was created in 2018 to focus on cybercrime investigations. Its mission was to expand the DOJ's expertise and capacity to investigate illicit cryptocurrency activities. The NCET can be seen as the next phase of that effort. 

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