When the cops arrested scammer Evan Leslie McMahon in March 2019 they found a lot more than just the bootleg Netflix logins that enabled his clients to watch The Witcher on the cheap.
Also in the possession of the early-20s hacker were nine electronic wallets containing an alphabet soup of cryptocurrencies – bitcoin, bitcoin cash, ethereum, digibyte, XRP, stratis, bitcoin gold and litecoin – that he bought with the proceeds of his crimes.
McMahon escaped jail when he was sentenced in April last year for “providing a circumvention service” and “dealing with the proceeds of crime”, receiving an intensive correction order that allowed him to serve his two-and-a-half-month sentence in the community.
But he forfeited the crypto, which was initially worth $460,000, but by the time of his sentencing had risen to an estimated value of $1.2m, making it the biggest stash of tokens seized by the commonwealth to date.
To collect fees from customers of his websites, HyperGen, WickedGen, Autoflix and AccountBot, McMahon used 175 PayPal accounts held in fake names – aliases included Zac Kentish, Izabella Sjogren and Samuel Binns, according to court documents.
He then converted some of the proceeds into crypto, federal police said.
PayPal declined to comment when asked how McMahon had managed to open 175 accounts with the company and what this said about its anti-money laundering systems.
“We devote significant resources to identify, investigate and stop improper or potentially illegal activity on PayPal,” a spokesman said.
Crypto seizures on the rise
Australia’s financial security agency, Austrac, says the criminal use of cryptocurrency is no longer confined to online scammers like McMahon, who ran a series of websites selling logins to Netflix, Spotify and other subscription sites that he bootlegged using software that automatically generated the keys.
“As legitimate use of cryptocurrency increases, we’re seeing a sort of comparable increase in abuse,” says Austrac’s national manager of intelligence operations, Michael Tink, who runs teams at the agency concentrating on cybercrime, national security and money laundering.
“As an example, where a crime group might have previously been sending money offshore using the banking sector or a remittance dealer, in some cases – not a lot – we might see them trying to deposit criminal proceeds through a digital currency exchange provider and send money to a counterpart offshore using cryptocurrency itself,” he says.
Tink is keen to point out that using cryptocurrency to launder the proceeds of crime is still “fairly” niche – but it is on the rise.
While the seizure of McMahon’s wallets was the biggest crypto bust in Australia at the time, larger amounts have since been frozen by regulators investigating possible fraud.
In October last year, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission obtained federal court orders freezing bitcoin estimated to be worth between $7m and $22m that were allegedly related to what the corporate watchdog claims was an unlicensed superannuation investment scheme run by Gold Coast couple Aryn Hala and Heidi Walters. Asic alleged in court documents that at least $2.4m of investor money had been used to purchase crypto-assets. Asic’s investigation is continuing and no charges have been laid.
Overseas enforcement agencies have also seized large amounts of crypto. Last month, the US FBI seized 3,879 bitcoin, which it claims in documents filed in the American federal court system are the proceeds of a US$155m ($216m) fraud perpetrated against insurance company Sony Life by employee Rei Ishii. Ishii has been charged with fraud in Japan and is yet to face trial.
In another crypto seizure case before the US courts involving 9.881 bitcoin (about $590,000), authorities allege bitcoin was used to launder ill-gotten gains.
Between May 2019 and February 2021, suspected money launderer Fernando Berrocal, a businessman in the perfume industry, picked up bulk cash from locations both inside and outside the US of US$2.3m ($3.2m), a Homeland Security agent alleges in an affidavit filed in forfeiture proceedings in the federal court system.
This was made up of “$1m in illegal gambling proceeds and $1.3m in narcotics proceeds”, Homeland Security agent James Barden said in the affidavit.
In addition, bank accounts owned or controlled by Berrocal received “$1,789,628.40 in proceeds generated by various financial frauds, many targeting elderly US residents,” Barden said.
He accused Berrocal of controlling “multiple commercial and personal bank accounts and shell-companies in the United States and elsewhere”, as well as “multiple virtual currency accounts and/or Bitcoin addresses”, which were used to launder dirty money.
“Berrocal conducted numerous financial transactions, many involving virtual currency, specifically bitcoin, to launder and transfer criminally derived proceeds from the United States to individuals and organizations outside the United States,” Barden said.
The agent said Berrocal admitted that the bitcoin was the proceeds of his criminal activity “during a consensual interview with law enforcement” in March last year. No charges have been laid and the investigation continues.
The regulators are watching
Cryptocurrencies had another of their moments in the sun last year, with the Commonwealth Bank announcing it would allow customers to buy, hold and transfer tokens through its app, ads for trading platforms dominating bus stops and the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, talking about bringing exchanges – which are prone to collapse – into Australia’s regulatory system.
But sceptics reckon the hype conceals a terrible truth: cryptocurrencies are fantastic for speculators but, despite many attempts, not much use as a means of exchange unless you are buying something you shouldn’t be.
“Paying for things the government doesn’t want you to buy was the first actual payment use case for cryptos – the Silk Road drug market – and it’s still about the only one,” says David Gerard, the author of two books on cryptocurrencies and a keen and critical observer of the sector.
“People only use crypto for payments when they can’t use good money for some reason, so they use this stuff instead. That’s expanded into large-scale ransomware. Ransomware existed before crypto, but not at this scale – that’s 100% on cryptos.”
Meanwhile, dirty cash from crime continues to wash into a crypto ecosystem electrified by speculative investment that, despite frequent crashes, has driven the price of bitcoin up from a few hundred dollars in 2015 to close to $60,000 today.
“The crypto system is not, technically, a Ponzi scheme – it just works like one,” Gerard says.
“Early buyers can only be paid out with money from later buyers. The whole purpose is to sell magic beans to people for real money, and convince them that these objects are the future of anything other than getting skinned.
“The general answer is: there’s no such thing as a get rich quick scheme, magic doesn’t happen, if there’s ever ‘one weird trick’ then it’s one weird trick for picking your pocket.”
Austrac has limited visibility of what goes on inside this booming market. Currently, exchanges that register with it only have to report suspicious or large movements of cash into their coffers or payments out – not transfers of crypto that occur between market participants.
However, Tink says the idea that transactions occurring on the blockchain – the distributed ledger that records crypto transactions – are completely anonymous is wrong.
“Our analysts also have access to other open source commercially available and more classified tools and data sets that help them track transactions as they occur through the blockchain and also link that to other data and criminal intelligence holdings,” Tink says.
He points out that one advantage of the blockchain technology underlying cryptocurrencies is that the data is publicly available.
“You might not always know who is behind a particular coin address, but it allows you to track transactions through with other data sets. It allows analysts to look at attributing wallet addresses to real world people.”
“The Creator”: A Glimpse Into A Future Defined By Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare
By Cindy Porter
In “The Creator” visionary director Gareth Edwards thrusts us into the heart of a dystopian future, where the battle lines are drawn between artificial intelligence and the free Western world.
Set against the backdrop of a post-rebellion Los Angeles, the film grapples with pressing questions about the role of AI in our society.
A Glimpse into a Future Defined by Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare
While the narrative treads familiar ground, it is timely, given the rising prominence of artificial intelligence in our daily lives.
A Fusion of Genres
Edwards embarks on an ambitious endeavor, blending elements of science fiction classics with contemporary themes.
The result is a cinematic stew reminiscent of James Cameron’s “Aliens” tinged with shades of “Blade Runner” a dash of “Children of Men,” and a sprinkle of “Akira” This concoction, while intriguing, occasionally veers toward familiarity rather than forging its own distinct identity.
Edwards’ Cinematic Journey
The British filmmaker, known for his foray into doomsday scenarios with the BBC docudrama “End Day” in 2005, has traversed a path from indie gem “Monsters” (2010) to the expansive Star Wars universe with “Rogue One” (2016).
“The Creator” marks another bold step in his repertoire. The film introduces compelling concepts like the posthumous donation of personality traits, punctuated by impactful visuals, and raises pertinent ethical dilemmas. It stands as a commendable endeavor, even if it occasionally falters in execution.
In his pursuit of depth, Edwards at times stumbles into the realm of convolution, leaving the audience grappling with intricacies rather than immersing in the narrative.
While adept at crafting visual spectacles and orchestrating soundscapes, the film occasionally falters in the art of storytelling.
In an era where classic storytelling is seemingly on the wane, some may argue that this approach is emblematic of the times.
AI: Savior or Peril?
“The Creator” leaves us with a question that resonates long after the credits roll: Will artificial intelligence be humanity’s salvation or its undoing? The film’s take on machine ethics leans toward simplicity, attributing AI emotions to programmed responses.
This portrayal encapsulates the film’s stance on the subject – a theme as enigmatic as the AI it grapples with.
Director: Gareth Edwards. Starring: John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Madeleine Yuna Boyles, Ken Watanabe. Genre: Science fiction. Release Year: 2023. Duration: 133 minutes. Premiere Date: September 29.
– A breakout hit, “Monsters” showcases Edwards’ talent for blending intimate human drama with towering sci-fi spectacles. Set in a world recovering from an alien invasion, it’s a poignant tale of love amidst chaos.
2. “Rogue One” (2016)
– Edwards helms this epic Star Wars installment, seamlessly integrating new characters with the beloved original trilogy. It’s a testament to his ability to navigate complex narratives on a grand scale.
3. “End Day” (2005)
– This BBC docudrama marked Edwards’ entry into the world of speculative storytelling. Presenting five doomsday scenarios, it set the stage for his later exploration of dystopian futures.
4. “The Creator” (2023)
– Edwards’ latest venture, “The Creator,” immerses audiences in a future fraught with AI warfare. While not without its challenges, it boldly tackles pertinent questions about the role of artificial intelligence in our lives.
5. Potential Future Project
– As Edwards continues to push the boundaries of speculative cinema, audiences eagerly anticipate his next cinematic endeavor, poised to be another thought-provoking addition to his illustrious filmography.
“The Creator” stands as a testament to Gareth Edwards’ unyielding vision and his penchant for exploring the frontiers of speculative cinema.
While it doesn’t shy away from the complexities of AI, it occasionally falters in navigating its intricate narrative.
As we peer into this cinematic crystal ball, we’re left with a stark question: Will artificial intelligence be our beacon of hope, or will it cast a shadow over humanity’s future? Only time will unveil the answer.
We Can’t Thank You Enough For Your Support!
— By Cindy Porter
— For more information & news submissions: info@VoiceOfEU.com
Energize Your Property Value: The Surge In Demand For Home EV Charging Points
By Raza H. Qadri (ALI)
In a rapidly evolving real estate landscape, home electric vehicle (EV) charging points have emerged as a coveted feature. Here, we will explore the surge in demand for these charging stations and their potential to transform property value desirability.
Surge in Demand:
Estate agents are witnessing an unprecedented uptick in requests for properties equipped with EV charging points. Rightmove reports a staggering 592% increase in listings mentioning EV chargers since 2019. This summer, Jackson-Stops even incorporated EV charging points into their top-ten must-have property features for the first time.
Adding Value To Property:
Integrating electric vehicle (EV) charging points into residential properties has become a key factor in boosting their market value. According to insights from the National Association of Property Buyers, homes equipped with EV charging facilities can see an uptick in value ranging from £3,000 to £5,000. This trend aligns with the increasing demand for sustainable features in real estate. Rightmove’s Greener Homes report highlights a remarkable 40% surge in listings mentioning EV chargers in comparison to the previous year. Such statistics underscore the significance of these installations as a sought-after feature among buyers.
Beyond the potential increase in property value, homeowners can reap substantial benefits from dedicated EV charging points. These specialized units offer significantly faster charging speeds compared to standard three-pin plugs. With an output of 32 amps/7kw, a dedicated charger can provide up to 28 miles per hour of charging, a substantial improvement over the 9 miles offered by a standard plug.
Moreover, safety considerations play a pivotal role. Standard domestic sockets may not be designed for prolonged high-output usage, potentially leading to overheating and related wiring issues.
Therefore, the integration of a dedicated EV charging point not only adds tangible value to a property but also ensures a safer and more efficient charging experience for homeowners and their electric vehicles.
Benefits Beyond Convenience:
Dedicated charge points offer benefits beyond convenience. According to James McKemey from Pod Point, these units deliver significantly faster charging speeds compared to standard three-pin plugs. Safety considerations also come into play, as standard domestic sockets may not be built for prolonged high-output usage.
Charging an EV at home proves more cost-effective than relying on public charging stations. Smart charging capabilities enable homeowners to take advantage of lower rates, typically offered during off-peak hours, such as at night.
Charger prices vary, ranging from approximately £300 to over £1,000, with installation costs potentially adding another £400 to £600.
Solar integration presents a game-changing opportunity for homeowners seeking both environmental sustainability and financial benefits. The global solar energy capacity reached an astounding 793 gigawatts (GW), illuminating the rapid adoption of this renewable energy source.
For homeowners, integrating solar panels with an electric vehicle (EV) charging point can lead to substantial savings. On average, a standard solar panel system costs around £6,000 to £7,000 per kWp (kilowatt peak), with the typical installation size being 4kWp. This equates to an initial investment of approximately £24,000 to £28,000.
However, the return on investment is impressive. Solar panels can generate roughly 3,200 kWh (kilowatt-hours) per year for a 4kWp system in the UK. With the average cost of electricity sitting at 16.1p per kWh, homeowners can save approximately £515 annually on energy bills.
Moreover, the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) schemeallows homeowners to earn money by exporting excess electricity back to the grid. As of September 2021, the SEG offers rates ranging from 1.79p to 5.24p per kWh. Over the course of 20 years, a solar panel system can generate savings of over £10,000, demonstrating the substantial financial benefits of solar integration. This trend is expected to surge further as advancements in solar technology continue to drive down installation costs and boost energy production.
Regulations and Grants:
Regulations surrounding EV charging point installations vary, particularly for listed buildings, which require planning permission for wall-mounted units. However, for flat owners, renters, and landlords with off-street parking, there’s an opportunity to benefit from government grants.
These grants provide a substantial subsidy, offering £350 or covering 75% of the total installation cost, whichever is lower. This incentive has spurred a surge in installations, with a notable uptick in applications over the past year.
In fact, according to recent data, the number of approved grant applications for EV charging points has risen by an impressive 68% compared to the previous year. This demonstrates a growing recognition of the value and importance of these installations in both residential and rental properties.
Renting Out Your Charging Point:
Renting out your EV charging point also presents a compelling opportunity for homeowners to capitalize on the growing demand for electric vehicle infrastructure.
According to recent market trends, the number of registered electric vehicles worldwide surpassed 14 million in 2023, marking a significant milestone. With projections indicating an annual growth rate of 29% – 34% for the global electric vehicle market, the need for accessible charging solutions is set to skyrocket. In the UK alone, the number of electric vehicles on the road has tripled over the last three years, reaching over 857,000 at the end of 2023.
This surge in EV ownership underscores the potential market for homeowners looking to rent out their charging points. Platforms like JustPark and Co Charger facilitate this process by connecting drivers in need of charging with available charging stations.
By participating in this shared economy, homeowners not only contribute to the expansion of EV infrastructure but also stand to generate a supplementary income stream. This symbiotic relationship between EV owners and charging point hosts aligns with the broader shift towards sustainable transportation solutions.
Finally, we can conclude that the surge in demand for properties with EV charging points signals a shifting paradigm in real estate. With added convenience, cost-efficiency, and potential for monetization, these installations are poised to become a cornerstone of future property value and desirability.
We Can’t Thank You Enough For Your Support!
— By Raza H. Qadri | Science, Technology & Business Contributor “THE VOICE OF EU”
— For more information & news submissions: info@VoiceOfEU.com
Business Transformation Expert Talks About Mass Layoffs
By Clint Bailey – ‘The Voice of EU’
By Clint Bailey – ‘The Voice of EU’
Raza H. Qadri (Ali), a Business Transformation expert and the Founder of Vibertron Technologies, a BizTech company, possesses extensive experience in the tech industry. Throughout his career, he has provided consulting services to both large corporations and SMEs undergoing significant restructuring initiatives.
In a recent interview with Voice of EU, Qadri highlighted the detrimental impact of mass layoffs on mid-career tech professionals and the businesses that implement such measures. He expressed his concern regarding the prevailing trend of widespread workforce reductions, suggesting that it represents a logical misstep.
“Considering the reputation of the tech industry for innovation, I had anticipated greater progress in recent developments. However, it appears that tech companies are regressing, particularly in their dismantling of established departments and structures that were intended to drive future growth.”
[Mass redundancies are] an outdated and traditional practice that most companies turn to as a first resort to create liquidity
Qadri says that most of the employees impacted by layoffs have “approximately 10-11 years of experience” and so are “not really junior staff that are easily replaced,” noting there would be “a loss of skills and knowledge in these companies.”
Additionally, he expresses concern regarding the potential loss of diversity at the technical and software engineering layer. Executives are increasingly focused on building and developing technology utilizing AI systems, which are known to possess biases due to limited training data.
Throughout his extensive experience working across various industries and regions, Qadri has observed that more than 70% of digital transformation initiatives either fall short or fail to achieve their intended outcomes. He emphasizes that one critical component, often overlooked, that can make or break digital transformation is the “people element.”
Emulating Technology & The Copycat Phenomenon
“In my view, the companies seem to be copying each other’s operations strategies” says Qadri. According to Qadri, these companies view the situation as an opportunity to streamline their workforce by letting go of the additional employees they had hired during the pandemic-induced surge. Many believed that the future would be dominated by virtual meetings and peripheral manufacturers would continue to experience significant profits.
However, in contrast to the significant revenue growth experienced by many companies during the global lockdowns, a notable trend has emerged. Numerous organizations have initiated large-scale job cuts.
According to data compiled by Layoffs.fyi, 693 technology businesses have already laid off 197,945 employees this year, with the year not even reaching its midpoint. This figure surpasses the 164,591 individuals laid off by 1,056 companies throughout the entirety of 2022.
Qadri quoted Henry Ford’s aphorism – “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it” – saying that mass redundancies were “an outdated and traditional practice that most companies turn to as a first resort to create liquidity.”
Shareholders, Profitability & Financial Performance Driving the Bottom Line
Qadri said: “The impact of layoffs on profitability may not be immediately evident, as increased expenses and significant severance packages (usually spanning 3-6 months) need to be accounted for in the short term. However, the dismantling of established departments and structures by tech companies is perceived as a regressive step. This approach reflects short-term thinking, lacking a focus on sustainable strategies for the digital future.”
Business Transformation Exec. Raza Qadri Talks About Mass Layoffs.
Qadri, who recently introduced a new remote work tech transformation algorithm MCiHT™ (Multi-Channel Integrated Hybrid Technologies) for Vibertron Consulting Solutions, notes that while companies are laying off people, they are investing billions in AI, IoT, and automation, citing the billions Microsoft has put into OpenAI so far.
In recent months, Microsoft announced its intention to reduce its workforce by 10,000 employees, which constitutes approximately 4% of the company’s total staff. This decision was prompted by Satya Nadella’s remarks highlighting the necessity for productivity enhancements. Microsoft is not the only company taking such measures; other prominent organizations like Salesforce, Amazon, Google, Meta, and several others are also trimming their workforce to align with the excess hiring made during the growth spurred by the COVID-19 lockdowns.
On the company’s most recent earnings call last month, Nadella noted: “During the pandemic, it was all about new workloads and scaling workloads. But pre-pandemic, there was a balance between optimizations and new workloads. So what we’re seeing now is the new workloads start in addition to highly intense optimization drive that we have.”
CFO Amy Hood then quickly responded to this, stating the company had “been through almost a year where that pivot that Satya talked about, from [here] we’re starting tons of new workloads, and we’ll call that the pandemic time, to this transition post, and we’re coming to really the anniversary of that starting. And so to talk to your point, we’re continuing to set optimization. But at some point, workloads just can’t be optimized much further.”
Not singling Microsoft out specifically, but speaking to the point of moves made by tech companies in a ‘maturity phase’. Qadri said, “Layoffs significantly impact this key performance indicator (KPI), despite the fact that these companies may possess substantial reserves. Such measures serve as a swift means to align with investor expectations and share prices, enabling them to quickly optimize their size and structure.”
Is It A Sustainable Approach?
During our conversation, we inquired with Qadri about the notable and unprecedented cuts that occurred at Twitter following Elon Musk’s involvement with the company.
He said: “I find it difficult to believe that only 30 percent of the organization was responsible for managing the entire structure. Even if that were the case, it would require considerable time to evaluate the existing structure, realign roles and responsibilities, and implement transformative measures to enhance efficiency.
The sudden loss of a significant portion of the workforce within a few weeks raises concerns, and I anticipate witnessing a restructuring of the top leadership with the arrival of the new CEO. Considering the online statements made by individuals like him, I am apprehensive about the values and direction that tech leaders of this nature promote.”
“Conversely, individuals whose skills are no longer retained by the tech industry now have opportunities to pursue financial independence and may choose not to revert to traditional roles within companies. Some are exploring avenues as independent contractors, leveraging their technical expertise to manage multiple full-time jobs enabled by remote work.”
Ultimately, the tech industry is “not really in a dire situation financially,” he says. While it “might have some loss of revenue [it is] not in the red yet. Layoffs should be last resort in truly bad financial situations, rather than first resort in slightly uncertain conditions.”
According to Qadri, one of the proposed solutions is for companies to resist the urge to follow the crowd and instead prioritize addressing the people element. By gaining support from investors and other stakeholders, companies can shift their focus towards long-term objectives rather than short-term gains. This entails establishing a robust ecosystem of internal and external stakeholders.
Photo credits: Vibertron.
Clint Bailey — Senior Business & Technology News Editor at ‘The Voice of EU’ & Co-Editor of EU-20 magazine.