Police expected to find a cannabis factory after being tipped off to suspicious activity, instead they discovered a huge tech scam.
Police were stunned to find a bitcoin “mine” stealing thousands of kilograms of electricity during a suspected warehouse drug raid.
Officers in the West Midlands, UK, thought they were about to bust a cannabis farm – but were met with the advanced tech scam instead.
Cryptocurrencies have to be “mined” in order to be created, which involves solving increasingly complex mathematical puzzles – requiring more and more powerful computers and significantly more energy.
Most computers used for the process cost more to run than the value of the currency they create – making stolen electricity a lucrative business when a single bitcoin is currently worth around £26,000 ($47,844).
In this case suspicions had been raised over the huge volume of power being used, leading police to initially think it was being used for drug production. They had been told that lots of people were visiting the unit throughout the day, with lots of wiring and ventilation ducts visible while locals say three men were behind the operation.
The police forced their way into the premises in Great Bridge Industrial Estate in Sandwell on May 18, after a drone picked up a heat source – but didn’t find what they were expecting.
Inside, police discovered 100 powerful computers hooked up to a complex system.
West Midlands Police said the computers were illegally using thousands of kilograms of electricity in order to mine bitcoin on a huge scale. Criminals have discovered bitcoin can be used anonymously, meaning the unregulated currency is popular with criminals buying drugs and guns.
The mass of IT equipment was seized, and a probe revealed the electric supply had been bypassed to power the “mine”.
One expert estimated the people behind the scam would have been stealing around $29,500 worth of electricity a month, about $20,240 more than they would have made from the bitcoin generated in the same time period.
“It’s certainly not what we were expecting,” Sergeant Jennifer Griffin said.
“It had all the hallmarks of a cannabis cultivation set-up and I believe it’s only the second such crypto mine we’ve encountered in the West Midlands. My understanding is that mining for cryptocurrency is not itself illegal but clearly abstracting electricity from the mains supply to power it is.
“We’ve seized the equipment and will be looking into permanently seizing it under the Proceeds of Crime Act. No one was at the unit at the time of the warrant and no arrests have been made – but we’ll be making inquiries with the unit’s owner.
“We heard how lots of people were visiting the unit at different times of day, lots of wiring and ventilation ducts were visible, and a police drone picked up a considerable heat source from above.”
This story originally appeared on The Sun and was republished with permission.