The $11 Billion Marketplace Enabling the Crypto Scam Economy

The $11 Billion Marketplace Enabling the Crypto Scam EconomyThe-11-Billion-Marketplace-At-the-Heart-of-the-Crypto-Scam-Economy-Security.jpg

That public nature of the criminal transactions is all the more shocking given that Huione Guarantee is operated by Huione Group, a Cambodian financial conglomerate that includes a company linked to the family of Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Manet. One of the companies’ directors, in fact, is Hun To, the prime minister’s cousin, who has been linked in an Al Jazeera investigation to an alleged scam compound reportedly owned by Heng He, a Cambodian conglomerate owned by two Chinese nationals.

Crypto scam researchers say that Huione Guarantee, despite its size, is just one of many money laundering methods that pig butcherers use. Given that much of the pig butchering ecosystem has ties to Chinese organized crime, pig butchering revenue is often laundered in a decentralized way by convincing individual Chinese citizens to accept and hand off cryptocurrency through their personal Alipay accounts for a small fee, notes Gary Warner, director of intelligence at cybersecurity firm DarkTower. Markets like Huione Guarantee, however, offer a path for scammers who don’t already have a laundering network they can rely on or who need to diversify their options for liquidating funds.

Screenshot of chat messages and a shock collar device

A listing on Huione Guaranteed for electrified GPS-tracking shackles for detaining enslaved scam laborers.

Courtesy of Elliptic

It’s perhaps no surprise that Huione Guarantee began operating in 2021, given that crypto scams surged during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sophos’ Gallagher notes that in Cambodia, pig butchering operations are largely run out of hotels and resorts that struggled with plummeting tourism in 2020 and 2021. “They were financed heavily or outright owned by Chinese companies in connection with special economic zones and other development tied to Belt and Road,” he says. Gallagher’s research indicates that laborers working on pig butchering in Cambodia—often against their will—are typically not citizens but have come from the surrounding region. “These facilities follow the same playbook as far as taking people’s passports and then using electrical shocks, cattle prods, and other physical punishment for not following the rules.”

As disturbing as it may be that a service enabling billions of dollars annually in crypto scam industry transactions is being run in the open—and with links to one of Cambodia’s most powerful families—Elliptic’s Robinson suggests that brazenness offers an opportunity to disrupt a keystone of that criminal industry: He proposes international sanctions targeting Huione’s leadership.

“This has the hallmarks of a darknet marketplace, but it’s run by a large Cambodian conglomerate, which has documented links to the ruling family there,” Robinson argues. “There is surely scope to impose sanctions on a business such as this, to hinder this type of marketplace from operating.”

Get a paper written

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *