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TRON Dominates Nearly 50% of Illicit Crypto Activity: TRM Labs Report

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The TRON network accounted for 45% of all illicit volume in 2023, according to data released by analysts at blockchain forensics firm TRM Labs.

TRM Labs released a report titled “The Illicit Crypto Economy” on Wednesday shedding light on the key trends in 2023 related to illicit activities and funds in the crypto space.

TRON Blockchain Dominates Illicit Activity

TRON blockchain network, founded by Chinese entrepreneur Justin Sun, accounted for the highest illicit activity last year, 45%, a surge from 41% in 2022. Ethereum and Bitcoin networks followed at 24% and 18%, respectively.

TRON also emerged as a favored network for hackers associated with North Korea, who frequently exchange stolen funds, predominantly for USDT, on its network. Subsequently, these laundered crypto funds are converted to fiat currency through high-volume over-the-counter (OTC) brokers.

According to TRM Labs, USDT stablecoin issued by Tether Inc. has become the preferred currency for terrorist financing entities, accounting for over $19 billion worth of illicit funds. In contrast, another stablecoin, USD Coin (USDC), recorded only $428.9 million in illicit volume.

Meanwhile, while other categories of illicit financing in crypto decreased, drug sales on darknet marketplaces saw an increase, reaching $1.6 billion in 2023, up from $1.3 billion in 2022. TRM Labs reported that the volume of drug sales using TRON more than quadrupled during this period.

Cybercriminals appear to prefer the TRON blockchain due to its relatively low gas fees, minimal price fluctuations, and a perception, although outdated, that it is more challenging to trace transactions conducted on this network.

Crypto Illicit Activity Decreased by 9%

The crypto space saw a decrease in illicit activity, with total illicit funds shrinking by 9% in 2023 compared to the previous year, according to TRM Labs. Despite this reduction, criminals still managed nearly $35 billion worth of cryptocurrencies.

Scams and frauds accounted for nearly a third of all crypto crimes in 2023. However, the share of illicit funds in the crypto space decreased over the year, though it still remains significantly higher than existing industry estimates.

TRM Labs observed declining volumes of hacked and sanctions-exposed funds, attributed to increased pressure from governments and law enforcement agencies globally. The report highlighted that the U.S. alone tripled the number of crypto crime-linked entities and individuals subject to sanctions.

Notably, hackers associated with North Korea obtained 30% less than in 2022, while hack proceeds decreased by over 50% to $1.8 billion from $3.7 billion in the previous year. This decline shows the impact of heightened enforcement efforts on illicit activities within the crypto space.

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