Since Bitcoin burst onto the global stage in 2009, amid the breathtaking Great Recession, the crypto has been lambasted for supposedly being a medium for money laundering, illicit activities, and the like. In fact, zealous skeptics, including the likes of BlackRock CEO Larry Fink and heavy-handed governments, have crucified Bitcoin for rapidly becoming the backbone of international crime.
Yet, a piece of investigative journalism has revealed that even the effective epitome of human innocence — video game currencies and items — aren’t safe from the money laundering narrative. And with that, I say the anti-crypto narrative of money laundering is flawed, sensationalized, and simple, utter drivel. Who’s laughing now, eh?
Fortnite V-Bucks — Not As Innocent As Meets The Eye
Fortnite’s V-Bucks, the preeminent “Battle Royale” video game’s in-house currency, are innocuous, right? To many, including myself, that would seem to be the case. Save for the whole premise of microtransactions and “pay to play” gaming experiences (Epic Games essentially sells lines of codes to generate millions, if not billions in revenue), V-Bucks are (almost) as innocent as things get.
Step one: purchase a Fortnite gift card, or use digital Mediums of Exchange (MoE) to deposit fiat. Step two: buy V-Bucks, watch your account balance skyrocket. Step three: buy items and have fun… I guess?
As I am a devout advocate for practicing forced Fortnite abstinence (unlike many of my fellow millennials), I’m not too sure how much pleasure is derived from spending cold, hard cash on V-Bucks. (Maybe I should hop on the train, but I’m not getting the Fear of Missing Out.)
But, considering Epic Games’ purported well, epic, profits, some are evidently enamored with the system. To them, it must be money well spent. Rumor has it, certain Fortnite diehards have spent dozens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands to watch their on-screen stats skyrocket. As the adage goes, “to each their own.” And with all that in mind, I’ve effectively come to the conclusion that yes, V-Bucks are purity in a digital form.
Yet, per a deep-dive report from The Independent, U.K.’s premier media outlet, this isn’t the case. Far from, in fact.
Per the news portal, the digital asset has made its way into the realm of organized crime. In fact, after sleuthing through online black markets, only accessible via Tor, The Independent determined that these shadowed marketplaces are filled to the brim with V-Bucks. No, this isn’t your average “GET FREE V-Bucks, ACT FAST” swindle, these V-Bucks are the real deal. As bonafide lines of code can get, anyway.
In collaboration with Sixgill, a leading cybersecurity firm, the Brit-run outlet revealed that V-Bucks obtained via stolen credit cards, an accessory associated with money laundering schemes, were being liquidated en-masse. Corroborating Fortnite’s newfound, still growing presence on the dark web, Sixgill also determined that mentions of “Fortnite” have skyrocketed in correlation with the game’s swelling profit figures.
No estimates have been made as to how much has been generated from this innovative scheme. But considering Fortnite’s popularity, I wouldn’t be surprised if these ingenious, yet shady entrepreneurs are visiting their local Lamborghini dealerships.
But will they get a Huracán or Aventador? How about a Veneno?
Where Does Bitcoin Fit Into This Imbroglio?
You may be left asking, what’s role does Bitcoin play in all this? Well, let me explain.
As I hinted at earlier, this accentuates that the narrative that cryptocurrencies are inherently a criminal’s sole tool doesn’t hold its water. Over the years, pundits and incumbents have called for a blanket ban on Bitcoin, specifically due to the blockchain network’s supposed ability to single-handedly enable global crime. Yet, with this new Fortnite information in mind, shouldn’t regulators call to ban Fortnite?
The fact of the matter is, they aren’t. This shouldn’t come as any surprise either, as global governments have infamously been oblivious to much of the dark web’s happenings, save for when it involves Bitcoin (look at the Silk Road).
In my eyes, governments see Bitcoin as a growing threat to their continued survival. So said entities may just be using cases of crypto-related money laundering to justify stringent regulatory action (or a lack thereof).
Weiss’ Cryptocurrency Ratings arm touched on this subject matter. Weiss explained that if 5% (a quite liberal estimate) of all Bitcoin transactions aren’t “clean,” $21.2 billion in BTC was used in illicit activities in 2017. Although this figure may seem nebulous, likely incomprehensible for effectively every human alive, the $21.2 billion sum pales in comparison to fiat’s purported role in criminal activity.
In fact, in 2009, the United Nations estimated that criminal activity accounted for 3.7% of worldwide GDP at the time. If this figure has held up over time, that would mean crime is an industry that generates $3.5 trillion each and every year.
So, shouldn’t governments ban money?
They aren’t going too, of course. So I say it again, this time with more conviction — the anti-crypto narrative of money laundering is flawed, sensationalized, and simple, utter drivel.
Leigh Cuen, a leading crypto reporter, encapsulated the dichotomy between anti-crypto regulators and pro-crypto rationalists best. In a scathing Twitter quip centered around the V-Bucks debacle, Cuen wrote:
“Literally everything can be used illicitly, cryptocurrency is not unique in this.”
Featured Image from Shutterstock