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Money Laundering Might Taint NFTs Too, Prepare For Tighter Controls

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  • There’s currently no hard data on NFTs use for money laundering.
  • “It’s probably easier to introduce digital-only scams than it is to physical scams.”
  • NFT marketplaces might be required to implement strict KYC/AML standards.

While non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are certainly the big thing in crypto at the moment, they aren’t without their problems. Aside from accusations of hype and faddishness, NFTs also raise the familiar and thorny issue of money laundering.

Without much in the way of quantitative proof, detractors have linked the burgeoning NFT market with money laundering, with some people describing them as the “best money laundering method in the cryptocurrency world.”

However, industry players speaking with Cryptonews.com suggested that, while NFTs are open to money launderers, there’s currently nothing concrete to indicate that their use for laundering is significantly worse than it is in the traditional art world, or with other types of crypto. At the same time, they attest that the strict introduction of KYC/AML (know your customer / anti-money laundering) standards will help combat this emerging problem.

A problem, but how big?

Given the young age of NFTs, there’s currently no hard data on their use for money laundering. Still, experts affirm that criminals are likely to turn to them sooner or later, if they haven’t already.

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This suggests that the NFT world might be ripe for money laundering, but again, there’s nothing that currently shows just how ripe.

“I don’t know of any nameable examples of anyone money laundering with NFTs. But I’d be amazed if nobody had tried,” said David Gerard, the author of Libra Shrugged and Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchains.

The main reason to assume this is that, as Gerard also pointed out, the traditional art world has long been notorious for money laundering.

“So I expect the same people will try the same tricks in this new field,” he added.

However, it’s extremely difficult gauging at this stage just how much of problem laundering will be with NFTs, as well as judging whether it will be more of a problem than it is with physical art.

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“My only thought as to why one might assume NFTs have a greater proportion of money laundering is that I’d assert that the crypto marketplace ‘might’ have more scams than the physical art world. There’s a lot of scamming in physical art, through counterfeiting,” said Yaya J. Fanusie, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where he researches the national security implications of cryptoassets and blockchain.

Fanusie acknowledges that identifying the proportion of money laundering in the NFT sector is an “elusive task,” yet he personally suspects that the virtual nature of NFTs makes it more vulnerable than the traditional art world.

“But let’s be real — it’s probably easier to introduce digital-only scams than it is to physical scams. So, there’s likely a large percentage of ill-gotten, fraudulent funds in crypto, that scammers and illicit actors want to launder,” he told Cryptonews.com.

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New methods, same goal

There are currently a myriad of ways a would-be money launderer can use art to hide the illicit sources of their ill-gotten money. And if nothing else, it seems that what the NFT world does is add a few more methods to the launderer’s repertoire.

“Savvy users attempting to launder typically attempt to obfuscate their tracks by going into and out of liquid coins or tokens through multiple different coin exchanges that have lax KYC gathering and AML/CFT screening,” said Tim Swanson, adding,

“NFTs are just another way of achieving the same goal, of breaking the provenance and walking away with ‘clean’ or screened coins.”

It seems that, given the relative lack of know-your-customer and anti-money-laundering checks in the NFT sector, laundering via NFTs may be as simple as buying and then selling a non-fungible token.

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“If the marketplace allows for NFTs with absolutely no KYC checks and no restrictions on transaction amounts, then it would be very easy for illicit actors to purchase NFTs, resell them, and move the crypto into other wallets, seemingly unrelated to the criminal,” said Yaya Fanusie.

As Swanson tweeted, another method may be buying/selling NFTs (possibly from oneself) in order to reduce tax liabilities.

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Same rules and solutions

There’s an obvious solution to all of this: tighter controls, with all NFT marketplaces being required to implement strict KYC/AML standards.

 

“Just as physical art dealers and marketplaces have to institute some procedures to verify their customers as well as to conduct more due diligence on the provenance of the items they trade, there will likely be a need to require NFT dealers and marketplaces to follow similar AML guidelines. This will probably shake up the NFT world just as it shook up the physical art world,” said Fanusie.

David Gerard agrees, noting that the NFT sub-sector will eventually have to fall in line with the legitimate part of the crypto industry.

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“The solutions will be what’s happening already — tighter KYC/AML on the crypto world; on the gateways to fiat, if not at the points where cryptos are exchanged,” he said.

Tim Swanson also suggested that the NFT sector could also be forced to follow guidelines similar to what FinCEN is trying to introduce for crypto at the end of last year, when it announced that crypto transactions worth USD 10,000 or more would require the wallet owner to provide identity information. He also said that blockchain analytics could be used to track transactions and identify participants.

“By requiring exchanges to follow these thresholds this could keep a check on money laundering via coins or tokens in the US,” he concluded.

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NFT

The Wolf of Wall Street Joined the NFT Craze, Vowed Never to Leave it

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Jordan Belfort. also known as the Wolf of Wall Street, has joined the NFT craze and doesn’t plan to leave it anytime soon.

The cryptocurrency space has seen numerous prominent individuals who went from criticizing it to joining it years later. Jordan Belfort, who used to bash bitcoin but later predicted it will tap $100,000, is now a keen supporter of the non-fungible token industry.

  • NFTs have garnered the attention of numerous celebrities outside of the cryptocurrency space in the past year.
  • Individuals like Tom Brady, Steph Curry, Eminem, and Paris Hilton, to giant organizations like Marvel Studios, DC, New York Knicks, and more, have all hopped on the bandwagon in some form.
  • The latest to dip his toes is the so-called Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort. He expressed his astonishment at the space in a recent tweet and vowed never to leave it.

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  • This is somewhat intriguing coming from Belfort due to his past. He used every opportunity to lash out at the primary cryptocurrency and the rest of the industry years ago.
  • Back in 2018, when most tokens were in a bear market, and bitcoin had lost more than half of its USD value in months, he tapped to his past and said the BTC landscape reminds him of the days where he and his company used to scam people.
  • Moreover, he urged investors who wanted to get in because “they believed in it” to run away.
  • Earlier this year, though, Belfort changed his tune. He went from predicting that bitcoin will go away to envisioning a price tag of $100,000.
  • He reasoned that the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent actions undertaken by world governments completely changed his mind on the asset.
  • Following his latest Tweet, after which he also changed his profile pic to include an NFT, it seems that he is now a believer in non-fungible assets as well.

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Buyers shell out $7M for unseen NFT collection

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Nonfungible token (NFT) investors have poured $7 million into a dutch auction that sold 50 tokens conferring ownership over digital artworks that will not be minted until December.

Tyler Hobbs, the artist behind the popular NFT series Fidenza, will launch 100 one-a-kind digital artworks in his latest collection Incomplete Control at the New York City-based Bright Moments gallery from Dec. 9 to Dec. 13.

On Oct. 22, Hobbs’ fans contributed 1,800 ETH (worth more than $7 million) in exchange for 50 of 100 “Golden Tokens” that grant its holder ownership rights to one of the artworks slated to be minted during the event. Each of the tokens features a number between one and 50 that corresponds to a specific artwork from the collection.

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The Golden Tokens were sold via a dutch auction hosted by Mirror Protocol that lasted just 90 minutes. The tokens were initially priced at 500 ETH each, with the price scheduled to decline by non-linear intervals every 5 minutes until reaching a floor of 5 ETH. All 50 tokens were sold at prices of between 30 Ether (roughly $120,000) and 80 Ether ($320,000) each.

Nonfungible token (NFT) investors have piled $7 million into a dutch auction that sold 50 tokens allowing buyers to mint digital artworks they have not seen.

The remaining Golden Tokens will be randomly distributed to 50 of the wallets that currently hold artworks from Hobbs’ previous series Fidenza or the CryptoCitizens NFT project on Nov. 5. Individuals who receive the tokens will be entitled to purchase an Incomplete Control NFT at for 15 ETH a 50% discount compared to the auction’s final clearing price.

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Hobbs describes his Incomplete Control series as exploring themes of imperfection, and how the digital sphere is able to transcend many of the imperfections present in the physical world. Hobbs’ website states:

“The forces of chaos and entropy give the natural world a certain warmth, and there are patterns and lessons there that we can use. I like to introduce these elements into the digital world, and Incomplete Control continues that work.”

Hobbs’ previous NFT series Fidenza comprises a curated drop of 999 NFTs that comprise unique generative artworks created using the purchaser’s transaction hash as a data input. The collection was sold for more than 37,000 ETH (roughly $400,000) and is being showcased on the generative NFT platform, Art Blocks.

During September, Solana-based NFT project SolBlocks came under fire from Hobbs for using Fidenza’s open-sourced code to generate images for commercial purposes without Hobbs authorization. Hobbs has since rejected SolBlocks’ offer to share profits from their sales with him. 

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NFTs ‘on Bitcoin’: Yes, That’s a Thing!

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Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are all the rage right now. From CryptoPunks to Bored Apes, millions in crypto are exchanging hands for pixel art, tokenized memes, and crypto collectibles. 

For the most part, the action takes place on the Ethereum (ETH) blockchain, which has made some hardcore bitcoiners skeptical of this new crypto market segment. However, there is also a market of NFTs secured by the Bitcoin (BTC) blockchain.

Read on to learn about what’s happening with Bitcoin-secured NFTs. 

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NFTs are moving beyond Ethereum

Until recently, Ethereum has been the go-to blockchain for minting and trading NFTs. That is changing quickly, however, as Ethereum high gas fees have pushed out many would-be market participants, making NFTs on other chains more attractive. 

The Bitcoin blockchain has also a role to play here.  

While NFTs “on Bitcoin” don’t exist purely on the Bitcoin blockchain (in a way that ERC721 tokens exist on Ethereum), they are secured by the Bitcoin blockchain. The additional tech stack that powers the ability to issue and secure NFTs with Bitcoin is provided by the likes of CounterpartyStacks, and the Liquid Network

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Let’s dive in and take a look at some of the most prolific NFT projects secured by Bitcoin.

Rare Pepes & crypto art on Scarce City

Scarce City is a Bitcoin-secured art auction platform that enables artists to sell their artwork for BTC. 

The Scarce City team claims that “Bitcoin’s finest goods should be sold according to the network’s properties of pseudonymous, borderless, permissionless, trust minimized, and verifiable authenticity and supply.” 

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On the auction platform, art is sold via Lightning-powered auctions to “keep auction participants accountable by collateralizing their bids through instant, anonymous, low-fee Lightning Network payments,” the team explains on its website.

In addition to giving artists the ability to sell their physical art in exchange for BTC, the marketplace also sells an NFT series based on the Pepe The Frog internet meme, called the Rare Pepe collection. 

Rare Pepe NFTs are powered by Counterparty – an open-source protocol built on top of the Bitcoin network – that uses the Bitcoin blockchain to record data. 

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By securing NFTs on Bitcoin, these digital collectible cards arguably have a chance of lasting longer than NFTs secured by newer chains that may end up disappearing (or forking) in a few years’ time. For NFT holders, that is something to consider. 

NFT skins for Bitcoin gamers

Bitcoin-secured NFTs are not only limited to artworks and dank memes. They also have applications in the gaming world. For instance, Lightnite, a play-to-earn online game powered by Lightning payments, utilizes Blockstream’s Liquid Network to enable players to purchase and earn in-game items in the form of NFTs. 

The Liquid Network is a Bitcoin sidechain that can facilitate the trading of these and other Bitcoin NFTs. While it was created by Blockstream, it’s currently governed by a federation of parties and operated on an open-source blockchain platform called Elements. 

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In a blog post, Blockstream explains that Lightnite players receive a unique Liquid token in their account every time they purchase or earn a skin. These tokens can then be withdrawn to a personal Blockstream wallet for safekeeping or to trade with other Lightnite players. Should a Lightnite player receive a skin outside of the game, they can deposit the Liquid token in their Lightnite account to receive the skin and deploy it in the game. 

Lightnite skins are not the only NFTs floating around on the Liquid Network. Another notable NFT project on Liquid is Raretoshi. 

Raretoshi is an NFT marketplace that enables artists to sell rare digital art for L-BTC (pegged bitcoin on Liquid), benefiting from lower transaction costs and the ability to get paid in bitcoin. 

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NFTs on Stacks: Web 3.0, built on Bitcoin

Stacks says it is a decentralized, open-source network built on Bitcoin that aims to unleash Bitcoin’s potential as a programmable base layer to build “a better Internet.” That means that developers can mint NFTs and build NFT marketplaces that are secured by the power of the Bitcoin network. 

The Stacks team says that “Bitcoin has all the properties that decentralized apps and smart contracts need: the security, the settlement assurances, the capital, and the network effects.” 

In light of Stacks’ Bitcoin-powered technology stack and the rising popularity of NFTs, it comes as little surprise that the first NFT ventures have already started to emerge on Stacks. 

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StacksArtSTXNFT, and Boom are examples of up-and-coming NFT platforms operating on the Stacks chain. 

Interestingly, Satoshibles – an NFT collection by bitcoiners for bitcoiners that launched on Ethereum – announced that it plans to move to Stacks via an NFT bridge between Ethereum and the Stacks blockchain. 

“Using Satoshi as our mascot, we have always felt that we are the NFT for Bitcoin enthusiasts, however, it’s a pretty hard sell when your project is on Ethereum,” the Satoshibles team admitted. 

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To bring its series of 5,000 algorithmically generated, Satoshi-themed NFTs close to the Bitcoin community, Satoshibles holders will be able to port their NFTs to Bitcoin via Stacks.

As the NFT market continues to grow and more NFTs “powered by Bitcoin” emerge, we could see even more money flowing into non-fungible tokens, especially when collectors can trust that their NFTs are secured by Bitcoin. 

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In a blog post, Blockstream explains that Lightnite players receive a unique Liquid token in their account every time they purchase or earn a skin. These tokens can then be withdrawn to a personal Blockstream wallet for safekeeping or to trade with other Lightnite players. Should a Lightnite player receive a skin outside of the game, they can deposit the Liquid token in their Lightnite account to receive the skin and deploy it in the game. 

Lightnite skins are not the only NFTs floating around on the Liquid Network. Another notable NFT project on Liquid is Raretoshi. 

Raretoshi is an NFT marketplace that enables artists to sell rare digital art for L-BTC (pegged bitcoin on Liquid), benefiting from lower transaction costs and the ability to get paid in bitcoin. 

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NFTs on Stacks: Web 3.0, built on Bitcoin

Stacks says it is a decentralized, open-source network built on Bitcoin that aims to unleash Bitcoin’s potential as a programmable base layer to build “a better Internet.” That means that developers can mint NFTs and build NFT marketplaces that are secured by the power of the Bitcoin network. 

The Stacks team says that “Bitcoin has all the properties that decentralized apps and smart contracts need: the security, the settlement assurances, the capital, and the network effects.” 

In light of Stacks’ Bitcoin-powered technology stack and the rising popularity of NFTs, it comes as little surprise that the first NFT ventures have already started to emerge on Stacks. 

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StacksArtSTXNFT, and Boom are examples of up-and-coming NFT platforms operating on the Stacks chain. 

Interestingly, Satoshibles – an NFT collection by bitcoiners for bitcoiners that launched on Ethereum – announced that it plans to move to Stacks via an NFT bridge between Ethereum and the Stacks blockchain. 

“Using Satoshi as our mascot, we have always felt that we are the NFT for Bitcoin enthusiasts, however, it’s a pretty hard sell when your project is on Ethereum,” the Satoshibles team admitted. 

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To bring its series of 5,000 algorithmically generated, Satoshi-themed NFTs close to the Bitcoin community, Satoshibles holders will be able to port their NFTs to Bitcoin via Stacks.

As the NFT market continues to grow and more NFTs “powered by Bitcoin” emerge, we could see even more money flowing into non-fungible tokens, especially when collectors can trust that their NFTs are secured by Bitcoin. 

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