Phil Ariss, Former Crypto Lead for the NPCC Cybercrime Programme, Joins TRM as Director of UK Public Sector Relations

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Phil Ariss, Former Crypto Lead for the NPCC Cybercrime Programme, Joins TRM as Director of UK Public Sector Relations

Last month, former crypto lead for the National Police Chiefs' Council Cybercrime Programme Phil Ariss, joined TRM Labs as Director of UK Public Sector Relations, bringing over 15 years of law enforcement experience in cybercrime, cryptocurrency investigations and digital research. 

In his former role as National Coordinator for Cryptocurrencies and Virtual Assets for the NPCC Cybercrime Programme, Mr. Ariss focused on ensuring that the UK public had confidence in law enforcement’s ability to bring offenders to justice and deny criminals the benefits of crime, by building awareness on how cryptocurrencies are being used to facilitate criminality in both the UK and internationally.

During his time with the NPCC, Mr. Ariss led a training programme for nearly 1,000 officers and staff, who now act as tactical advisors in cases involving cryptocurrencies. Mr. Ariss was also responsible for the standardization of the UK’s approach to seizure, restraint and confiscation of cryptocurrencies.

In his new role at TRM, Mr. Ariss will be drawing on his cross-functional investigative and operational experience to actively maximize cryptocurrency investigation capabilities for law enforcement across the UK. 

We sat down with Mr. Ariss to  discuss crypto investigation trends in the UK to learn more about his experience as a leading investigator in this space. 

‍How did you get involved in the world of cryptocurrencies? 

In 2015, I was working in a very small team within the police service looking at emerging digital capabilities and how that could positively, or negatively, impact policing and our response to a serious and organized crime.  One of these trends was the emergence of Bitcoin, in particular, the use of Bitcoin for a life at risk, kidnap case. The question posed to me by my supervisors was:  how would the police service deal with such a case, and what risks, challenges and opportunities would there be in doing so?

What began as a small piece of work, scheduled to last no more than three months, ultimately took over my policing career for the next seven years in various forms.

‍Can you tell us about an interesting case you worked on during your time in the public sector?  

In December 2017, while working for East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU)  I was involved in a search warrant where I made my first cryptocurrency seizure, totalling over £300,000 worth of Bitcoin after disrupting a darkweb drug dealer. 

This was a pivotal moment for a number of reasons. Firstly, it demonstrated very clearly to my police force and ROCU that seizing cryptocurrency was no longer a theory, and that with the right training and equipment, it could become a more mainstream policing tactic.

Secondly, it was the first time I had personally put into practice what I had been learning and preaching about. Police officers seize items every day, and the process for seizing cash is routine and understood by all. Back in 2017 however, seizing cryptocurrency was anything but normal. Admittedly, I was nervous about being personally responsible for the seizure and storage of the Bitcoin. It is safe to say that I slept well when the Bitcoin was finally sold!

What are the key crypto investigation trends and typologies we are seeing in the UK?

Fraud, specifically investment fraud, is the single largest typology that we are seeing in the UK, with fraud cases as a whole making up almost half of the cryptocurrency investigations that UK police forces are faced with. 

With the scale and cross-border nature of fraud, it is impossible for law enforcement to investigate their way out of this threat, despite the devastating impact that this has on victims of crime. These financial losses have a devastating impact not only on the victim and their family, but also the wider economy– it is critical that law enforcement keep this front and center when approaching these cases. 

‍What is an essential piece of advice you would give to someone in the early stages of implementing a process for investigating crypto cases?

For any agency, it's vitally important to understand the risks and benefits of operating in this space, and you can only identify these correctly by being in an informed position. This is why education and understanding is paramount. My advice would be to collaborate with partner agencies, international partners and private sector partners, like TRM Labs, to help build and educate your workforce. 

With a solid foundation of knowledge, an organization can start to work on ensuring the right staff have the right technical capabilities available to them, including tools such as TRM Tactical or TRM Forensics. And lastly, remember that following the flow of illicit finance is a rewarding challenge that can help an organization achieve key strategic goals in disruptions and asset denial opportunities. 

Interested in a role at TRM? See our current openings here. 

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