The small shop in the Süderelbe shopping center in Hamburg looks like the perfect place for crooked deals this autumn morning. There are only a few people in the corridors, and those who take the escalator to the first floor take a while to discover the place. There is not much in its interior. In essence, it is an orange automaton that remotely reminds of the letter B. The B is likely to stand for Bitcoin - the digital currency that does not need a central bank, because it is managed remotely by a network of thousands of computers around the world.
At this machine begins a trail that will lead to a mysterious factory in the Polish province - a man who sometimes interprets law and law and literally shows the middle finger of conventional banks.
According to the German financial supervision, this Bitcoin machine should not stand here. Nevertheless he stands there. Just as 41 other Bitcoin machines do, according to the online platform Coin ATM Radar, which is now available throughout Germany. They can be used to buy bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies with euro notes - and turn crypto currencies into euros. There are now more than 6,000 of these devices worldwide, making security experts and prosecutors increasingly nervous. They fear that criminals use the cryptocurrencies to fund illegal business, and they hold bitcoin machines for digital money laundromats. For devices that turn dirty money into honest euros. To do this, criminals at the vending machines would only have to deposit cash from crime and thus convert it into digital cryptocurrencies. These are then transferred anonymously and withdrawn at another machine again in euros.
As early as 2017, the European police agency warned Europol of the criminal abuse of the machines. Now the EU is extending its current money laundering policy to Bitcoin machines, putting it under more scrutiny. The FATF, the international agency for money laundering prevention, is also pushing for stronger controls on cryptocurrencies, including vending machines: risk is also rising in Germany.
But who is behind the devices?
The machine in the shopping center Süderelbe seems to be prepared for customers: At present, 58,220 euros are in stock, reveals the screen. Nobody wants the money this morning, except for a man with a backpack. He works on the machine for a few minutes, then runs away. Later, he appears a second time, this time accompanied by men in track suits, who post themselves like watchdogs at the nearby escalator. Soon after, he disappears again.
So the users are silent, so quiet are the machines. Who wants Bitcoin, pushes euro banknotes into a slot, the machine pulls them silently. Then you have to enter an address in the Bitcoin network. This is most likely to be compared to an account to which the cash amount converted into Bitcoin will be credited. The difference to a bank account is just that these addresses are completely anonymous. The credit can be managed using so-called wallets unrecognized.
You can usually only become recognizable when you buy bitcoin in Bitcoin exchanges on the Internet; The marketplace Bitcoin.de requires an identity card if you want to trade Bitcoin worth more than 2500 Euros within one year. Such tests are required by law and should prevent money laundering. You do not have to identify yourself to the Bitcoin machine in the Süderelbe shopping center and you do not have to enter a telephone number or e-mail address. The machine allows Bitcoin completely undetected in euros and back again.
After all, the tenant of the small shop can be recognized, in which the machine is. It's no joke: the Shitcoins Club. At least that's what it says in big letters on a poster on the wall. There is also that you can find all the information on the Internet. You can quickly reach the website of the Shitcoins Club with your smartphone. "The ATM of the cryptocurrencies" is one of the many phrases that can be read there in rather broken German.
According to information, the company Tygrysia Maska, translated Tigermaske, operates the Shitcoins Club. She is based in Toruń, Poland, where the club operates 25 machines. There are 97 across Europe, maps on the website, and more every week. And with every single machine there is also how much euro cash he currently contains. One is therefore in the arcade of the Thuringian town Ohrdruf and is filled with 44,070 euros. Another is in a tattoo parlor in the Italian town of Conegliano and contains 20,110 euros. This also makes it suspicious: which bank would tell their customers how much money their machines contain?