Despite the proliferation of more than 2000 cryptocurrencies, including harder-to-track privacy coins, the overwhelming majority of criminals still prefer Bitcoin for illicit activity.
“Bitcoin is by far the favorite,” Jonathan Levin, co-founder and COO of Chainalysis, tells Fortune on the latest episode of “Balancing the Ledger.”
Chainalysis makes software that helps cryptocurrency firms and law enforcement trace the public ledger of transactions recorded on 10 different blockchains. That number includes four new cryptocurrencies Chainalysis added on Wednesday, including dollar-backed stablecoins such as Tether, Gemini Dollar, and USD Coin, as well as Binance Coin.
Still, Bitcoin, which is currently trading at just under $5,500, accounts for 95% of the cryptocurrency cases law enforcement investigates, according to Levin.
The same reasons that have made Bitcoin, the original cryptocurrency, the top digital coin on the market have also made it criminals’ cryptocurrency of choice: It’s the most valuable and also has the highest transaction volume of any of its peers, making it easier to trade and spend.
Many of the opioid busts in the U.S. in recent months stemmed from blockchain analysis, allowing authorities to trace illegal purchases of fentanyl and other drugs paid for in cryptocurrency, Levin adds.
“What we’ve seen is that there is the ability to tie some of those cryptocurrency transactions either to the pharmacies in China or to the services that people are using to distribute fentanyl,” he says. “Homeland Security and the DEA have actually become really good at apprehending those people.”
One ongoing case that Chainalysis has not been quite as successful in cracking is that of QuadrigaCX, the Canadian cryptocurrency exchange that earlier this year said it had lost access to $190 million worth of customer funds following the death of its CEO. When Chainalysis attempted to track the money that was supposedly trapped in in wallets only the late CEO could access, it discovered a potentially more sinister explanation.
“What we found very quickly was that Quadriga as an exchange actually didn’t have those customer funds that were reported in the media to be now lost—those funds actually never existed,” Levin explains. What Quadriga really did with the money that customers gave it to buy Bitcoin remains a mystery.