In a chilling but sadly all-too-familiar sequence of events, UK banks have been targeting cryptocurrency owners. Individuals who have cashed out large amounts of cryptocurrency — legitimately — have had their assets frozen and accounts locked without warning, fueled by fears of money laundering and a general distrust of Bitcoin. One victim even claims to have had their house raided and computer equipment seized in a follow-up operation by UK police.
The Legacy Banking War on Cryptocurrency Ramps Up
Traditional finance and cryptocurrency have been uneasy bedfellows ever since the start, but it didn’t have to be this way. While some jurisdictions have belatedly welcomed cryptocurrency with open arms — think Gibraltar, Malta, and Liechtenstein, where Binance has just opened a fiat-crypto exchange — the majority have taken an antagonistic stance. The UK is a prime example; unless you’re a bigshot like Coinbase, which recently secured a deal with Barclays, don’t count on retaining access to a bank account if you dabble in crypto. On P2P site Localbitcoins.com, UK traders exchange large amounts of BTC every day, requesting, in most instances, that the bank pay-in reference is something benign and unrelated to crypto. To do otherwise is to play a dangerous game.
This week, one British cryptocurrency figure discovered, to his peril, the speed and severity of the crackdown that’s initiated once a UK bank deems an individual to be persona non grata. The man, who we’ll refer to as John, has been involved in cryptocurrency for many years, actively mining it, occasionally trading it, and operating as a senior figure in the project team for a top 100 cryptocurrency. He has no criminal convictions, and has always accorded to UK laws concerning financial regulations and taxation. He told news.Bitcoin.com:
I had my bank account frozen and my funds taken hostage by Clydesdale Bank without any warning or explanation…I was eventually told by the branch manager that it no longer wanted to do business with ‘these type of people’ [i.e cryptocurrency users]
Locked Out by Banks Without Warning
“I tried to log in to my Clydesdale Bank current account (the one that I’ve had since childhood) late on Tuesday evening only to be presented with a message saying ‘Sorry, we’re no longer able to assist you online.’ I then tried the app which said ‘Your account is locked, please call.’ I called the help center only to be told that the guy on the other end of the phone also couldn’t access my account nor confirm whether or not my (six-figure GBP) balance was safe. I was told that he was completely unable to help and that I would need to call HQ in the morning.”
“I called HQ this morning and was put on hold for 20 minutes. When the guy came back, he told me that there was a letter in the post to me and that he couldn’t say anything more about what was happening or whether or not my balance was safe. So I requested to be put through to the most senior person available, who then told me that my account had been locked down but he was unable to tell me why, nor who put the lock on my account. He refused to even tell me which department placed the block. He told me that my only option was to go into my local branch and request a manual withdrawal of funds. However he explained that such a withdrawal would need to be approved by the bank and therefore I wasn’t guaranteed to get access to my cash.”
“My local countryside branch were as clueless as you’d expect. I sat watching the assistant phone head office to try to get to the bottom of WTF was happening. HQ refused to tell her while I was present so they instead went cloak and dagger by sending an email which she had to leave the room to go and check out. After another 20 minutes and a couple of phone calls that I could hear her make from the room next door, she finally reappeared with another guy who turned out to be the branch manager.”
“These Types of People”
“The branch manager sat down and explained that the bank had reviewed the transactions coming in and out of my account and decided that it no longer wanted to do business with ‘these type of people.’ I immediately requested full withdrawal of my not insignificant balance to which he replied that he would need to seek approval for that to happen.”
John’s experience is by no means an isolated case. In Britain, as in many other countries, cryptocurrency users are having something they’ve always known reaffirmed: you can’t trust banks with your money. Previous character, credit rating, and occupation are all worthless should a legacy financial institution take a disapproving view of your involvement in cryptocurrency. A few days prior to John being locked out by a bank he’d been with for over 20 years, another British citizen was enduring an even more harrowing encounter.
“Got raided yesterday at 6:30am for cashing out 500,000 in Bitcoin back in December 2017, arrested for money laundering and possession of criminal property in the UK,” he told fellow members of the /biz/ messageboard. When pressed for details he elaborated:
My Bitcoins that were cashed out were legit bought back in 2012/13 and they have seized some of my crypto too, seized my PC, all my USB and hard drives and raided my whole house and took me to the police station, got given a solicitor and interviewed, they asked where I found out about Bitcoin and said 4chan and a poker site.
Raided by the Police for Cashing Out
The anonymous /biz/ poster continued:
“I was released [from police custody] same day at like 4pm, solicitor said shit went well and was released not on bail but was ‘under investigation’ i.e we have f**k all on you but lol we’re holding your shit anyway. they searched my house and I believe they thought I was a drug dealer and were kind of disappointed they didn’t find anything like that so I am guessing they jumped to conclusions, it’s my bank who started this shit by freezing it.”
News.Bitcoin.com cannot verify this story, but the level of detail supplied, accompanied by a picture purportedly showing the search warrant the police presented, suggests that it is authentic. The man’s problems began when he tried to cash out from crypto, which caused Natwest bank to freeze his account. John, on the other hand, explained that he had recently sold various material assets to fund a new business venture that required access to fiat. In other words, John hadn’t suddenly cashed out a large sum of cryptocurrency that might have triggered the incident. The mere possession of a reasonable sum of fiat currency, coupled with a history for selling smaller amounts of crypto, was enough.
The /biz/ poster claims to have cashed out a significant amount of Bitcoin in late 2017 partly to pay taxes, which he duly did with £110,00 of the money. This didn’t prevent him from falling under suspicion however. He asserts that the police
“literally kidnapped me and stole my money on the basis of ‘we don’t know if you’ve committed a crime to obtain this money but lol we’re seizing your assets and raided your house.’”
Funds Are Safu
John’s incident ended better than he at one point expected, with Clydesdale Bank eventually transferring his money to a new bank the man had hastily joined. He concludes:
“I now have all of my funds in another account which I won’t name to prevent a repeat of this ridiculous discrimination. Being treated like a criminal (without proof nor cause) by an organization that I’ve been loyal to for over 20 years has seriously pissed me off.”
There may come a day when cryptocurrency users are treated with dignity and respect by legacy financial institutions. By the time that day arrives, however, the crypto economy may have evolved to the stage where bitcoiners may no longer need the banks that shunned them.