researcher on technology policy at Yale Law School and New America. “People are far more trusting overall in how government entities handle their personal information and far more suspicious about the corporate sector.”

Legal analysts said any disciplinary actions resulting from the Shanghai police database breach were unlikely to be publicized. There are few mechanisms in place to hold Chinese government agencies responsible for their own data leaks. For many citizens, that lack of recourse has contributed to a sense of resignation.

Occasionally, though, they notch small victories, as Xu Peilin did when she took on her neighborhood committee last year. She had returned to her apartment building in Beijing one day to find that the compound wanted residents to submit to a facial recognition scanner to enter.

“It was insane,” said Ms. Xu, 37, a project manager at a start-up company. She said it reminded her of one of her favorite television shows, the British science fiction series “Black Mirror.”

Ms. Xu badgered her neighborhood committee by telephone and text message until it relented. For now, Ms. Xu said, she can still enter her compound using her key card, though she believed it was only a matter of time until the facial recognition devices became mandatory again.

“All I can do for now,” she said, “is continue to resist on a small scale.”

Zixu Wang contributed reporting.

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Bitcoin Plummets Below $20,000 for First Time Since Late 2020

Square, another payments company, bought $50 million of Bitcoin and changed its name to Block, in part to signify its work with blockchain technology. Tesla bought $1.5 billion of it. The venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz raised $4.5 billion for a fourth cryptocurrency-focused fund, doubling its previous one.

Excitement hit a peak in April last year when Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange, went public at an $85 billion valuation, a coming-out party for the industry. Bitcoin topped $60,000 for the first time.

Last summer, El Salvador announced that it would become the first country to classify Bitcoin as legal tender, alongside the U.S. dollar. The country’s president updated his Twitter profile picture to include laser eyes, a calling card of Bitcoin believers. The value of El Salvador’s $105 million investment in Bitcoin has been slashed in half as the price has fallen.

Senators and mayors around the United States began touting cryptocurrency, as the industry spent heavily on lobbying. Mayor Eric Adams of New York, who was elected in November, said he would take his first three paychecks in Bitcoin. Senators Cynthia Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, proposed legislation that would create a regulatory framework for the industry, giving more authority to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, an agency that crypto companies have openly courted.

Through the frenzy, celebrities fueled the fear of missing out, flogging their NFTs on talk shows and talking up blockchain projects on social media. This year, the Super Bowl featured four ads for crypto companies, including Matt Damon warning viewers that “fortune favors the brave.”

That swaggering optimism faltered this spring as the stock market plummeted, inflation soared and layoffs hit the tech sector. Investors began losing confidence in their crypto investments, moving money to less risky assets. Several high-profile projects crashed amid withdrawals. TerraForm Labs, which created TerraUSD, a so-called stablecoin, and Celsius, an experimental crypto bank, both collapsed, wiping out billions in value and sending the broader market into a tailspin.

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EXCLUSIVE Texas securities regulator is probing Celsius account freeze – official

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WASHINGTON, June 16 (Reuters) – State securities regulators in Alabama, Kentucky, New Jersey, Texas and Washington are investigating crypto lender Celsius Network’s decision this week to suspend customer redemptions, Joseph Rotunda, enforcement director at the Texas State Securities Board told Reuters on Thursday.

Officials met and began investigating the matter first thing Monday morning, Rotunda said, adding he considered the probe to be a “priority.”

Celsius said that due to extreme market conditions, it was pausing withdrawals, swaps and transfers between accounts. The company said that doing so would put it “in a better position to honor, over time, its withdrawal obligations.” read more

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“I am very concerned that clients – including many retail investors – may need to immediately access their assets yet are unable to withdraw from their accounts. The inability to access their investment may result in significant financial consequences,” he said.

Alabama Securities Commission Director Joseph Borg also told Reuters that Alabama, Texas, New Jersey and Kentucky securities regulators were probing the matter. Celsius has been responsive to questions from the regulators, but that the investigation is in the initial stages, he said.

Borg added that U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has also been in communication with Celsius.

The SEC declined to comment. The New Jersey and Washington state securities regulators did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Financial Institutions said it was their policy to not comment on ongoing enforcement actions and investigations.

Celsius and CEO Alex Mashinsky did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rotunda said he and his team learned of the move by New Jersey-based Celsius to freeze user withdrawals from the company’s blog post and announcement on Twitter on Sunday night, which said the company needed to take action to “stabilize liquidity.”

In September, regulators in Kentucky, New Jersey and Texas hit Celsius with a cease and desist order, arguing its interest-bearing products should be registered as a security. In February, the SEC and those same state regulators fined BlockFi $100 million for failing to register its crypto lending product.

Similar to a bank, Celsius gathers crypto deposits from retail customers and invests them in the equivalent of the wholesale crypto market, including “decentralized finance,” or DeFi, sites that use blockchain technology to offer services from loans to insurance outside the traditional financial sector. read more

Celsius promises retail customers huge returns, sometimes as much as 18.6% annually. The lure of big profits has led individual investors to pour assets into Celsius and platforms like it.

Mashinsky said in October Celsius had $25 billion in assets. That figure had fallen to around $11.8 billion as of last month, the Celsius website showed.

Celsius appears to have stumbled on some of its wholesale crypto investments, according to public blockchain information and analysts who track such data. As those investments soured, the company was unable to meet redemptions from customers fleeing amid the broader crypto market slump, analysts said. read more

Cryptocurrencies have lost more than $400 billion since TerraUSD, a major stablecoin pegged to the U.S. dollar, collapsed in May. Bitcoin sank to an 18-month low on Wednesday to $20,079.72. It has slumped about 70% from its record high of $69,000 in November. read more

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Reporting by Hannah Lang; Editing by Richard Chang, Nick Zieminski, Michelle Price and Diane Craft

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Crypto Firms Quake as Prices Fall

SAN FRANCISCO — No one wanted to miss out on the cryptocurrency mania.

Over the last two years, as the prices of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies surged, crypto start-ups proliferated. Companies that market digital coins to investors flooded the airwaves with TV commercials, newfangled lending operations offered sky-high interest rates on crypto deposits and exchanges like Coinbase that allow investors to trade digital assets went on hiring sprees.

A global industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars rose up practically overnight. Now it is crashing down.

After weeks of plummeting cryptocurrency prices, Coinbase said on Tuesday that it was cutting 18 percent of its employees, after layoffs at other crypto companies like Gemini, BlockFi and Crypto.com. High-profile start-ups like Terraform Labs have imploded, wiping away years of investments. On Sunday, an experimental crypto bank, Celsius, abruptly halted withdrawals.

dropped by about 65 percent since autumn, and analysts predict the sell-off will continue. Stock prices of crypto companies have cratered, retail traders are fleeing and industry executives are predicting a prolonged slump that could put more companies in jeopardy.

stocks crashing, interest rates soaring and inflation high, cryptocurrency prices are also collapsing, showing they have become tied to the overall market. And as people pull back from crypto investments, the outflow is exposing the unstable foundations of many of the industry’s most popular companies.

OpenSea, the largest marketplace for the unique digital images known as nonfungible tokens, reached a staggering $13 billion valuation. And Wall Street banks such as JPMorgan Chase, which previously shunned crypto assets, and Fortune 500 companies like PayPal rolled out crypto offerings.

confidence evaporated in the early 2000s, many of the dot-coms went bust, leaving just the biggest — such as eBay, Amazon and Yahoo — standing.

This time, investors predict there will be more survivors. “You certainly have some overhyped companies that don’t have the fundamentals,” said Mike Jones, an investor at the venture firm Science Inc. “But you also have some really strong companies that are trading way below where they should.”

There have been warning signs that some crypto companies were not sustainable. Skeptics have pointed out that many of the most popular firms offered products underpinned by risky financial engineering.

Terraform Labs, for example, offered TerraUSD, a so-called stablecoin with a fixed value linked to the U.S. dollar. The coin was hyped by its founder, Do Kwon, who raised more than $200 million from major investment firms such as Lightspeed Venture Partners and Galaxy Digital, even as critics warned that the project was unstable.

The coin’s price was algorithmically linked to a sister cryptocurrency, Luna. When the price of Luna plummeted in May, TerraUSD fell in tandem — a “death spiral” that destabilized the broader market and plunged some investors into financial ruin.

drew scrutiny from several state regulators. In the end, a drop in crypto prices appeared to put the company under more pressure than it could withstand.

With the price of Bitcoin tumbling, Celsius announced on Sunday that it was freezing withdrawals “due to extreme market conditions.” The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The market instability has also triggered a crisis at Coinbase, the largest U.S. crypto exchange. Between the end of 2021 and late March, Coinbase lost 2.2 million active customers, or 19 percent of its total, as crypto prices dropped. The company’s net revenue in the first three months of the year shrank 27 percent from a year earlier, to $1.2 billion. Its stock price has plunged 84 percent since it went public last year.

This month, Coinbase said it would rescind job offers and extend a hiring freeze to battle the economic downturn. On Tuesday, it said it would cut about 1,100 workers.

Brian Armstrong, Coinbase’s chief executive, informed employees of the layoffs in a note on Tuesday morning, saying the company “grew too quickly” as crypto products became popular.

“It is now clear to me that we over-hired,” he wrote. A Coinbase spokesman declined to comment.

“It had been growth at all costs over the last several years,” said Ryan Coyne, who covers crypto companies and financial technology at the Mizuho Group. “It’s now turned to profitable growth.”

memo to staff, the Winklevoss twins said the industry had entered a “crypto winter.”

commercial starring the actor Matt Damon, who declared that “fortune favors the brave” as he encouraged investors to put their money in the crypto market. Last week, Crypto.com’s chief executive announced that he was laying off 5 percent of the staff, or 260 people. On Monday, BlockFi, a crypto lending operation, said it was reducing its staff by roughly 20 percent.

Gemini and BlockFi declined to comment. A Crypto.com spokesman said the company remains focused on “investing resources into product and engineering capabilities to develop world-class products.”

Cryptocurrencies have long been volatile and prone to boom-and-bust cycles. In 2013, a Chinese ban on Bitcoin sent its price tumbling. In 2017, a proliferation of companies creating and selling their own tokens led to a run-up in crypto prices, which crashed after regulators cracked down on so-called initial coin offerings.

These bubbles are built into the ecosystem, crypto enthusiasts said. They attract talented people to the industry, who go on to build valuable projects. Many of the most vocal cheerleaders encourage investors to “buy the dip,” or invest more when prices are low.

“We have been in these downward spirals before and recovered,” Mr. Jones, the Science Inc. investor, said. “We all believe in the fundamentals.”

Some of the companies have also remained defiant. During Game 5 of the N.B.A. finals on Monday night, Coinbase aired a commercial that alluded to past boom-and-bust cycles.

“Crypto is dead,” it declared. “Long live crypto.”

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How Influencers Hype Crypto, Without Disclosing Their Financial Ties

Some of the projects that Mr. Armstrong promoted were small-time, experimental crypto ventures that eventually encountered problems. In those cases, he said, he considered himself a victim, too.

“They’re preying on the novice crypto influencer who just got popular and is trying to figure out what they should and shouldn’t be doing,” he said. “It’s hard to go from 12,000 followers to a million in one year and make all the right decisions.”

Mr. Paul rose to fame as a video blogger and an occasional actor; YouTube once reprimanded him for publishing footage of a dead body he found in a Japanese forest. Over the years, he has parlayed his internet fame into an eclectic array of entrepreneurial pursuits, including a line of energy drinks.

Mr. Paul became interested in crypto last year as the market for NFTs started booming. In a recent interview, he acknowledged that he was still learning how to navigate the crypto market, even as he tried to profit from the technology. “I’m an extreme ideas person, not much of an executor,” he said.

Mr. Paul was involved in some of the initial brainstorming for the Dink Doink project. But the venture was ultimately spearheaded by one of his roommates, Jake Broido, who gave Mr. Paul 2.5 percent of the tokens that were initially issued.

In a tweet last June, Mr. Paul called it one of the “dumbest, most ridiculous” cryptocurrencies he had encountered, and circulated a video of a cartoon character singing sexually explicit lyrics. “That’s why I’m all in,” he added. He also appeared in a shaky-cam video on Telegram in which he hailed Dink Doink as possibly his favorite crypto investment.

The campaign was a flop, and Mr. Paul was pilloried by YouTube critics. The price of Dink Doink hovered well below a cent, before falling even further in value over the summer. Mr. Paul said he had never sold his tokens or profited from the project. But he said he regretted promoting the coin without disclosing his financial stake. “I definitely didn’t act as responsibly as I should have,” he said.

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Small players lose faith in crypto after sell-off

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WASHINGTON/MUMBAI, May 17 (Reuters) – Nofe Isah, a 25-year old based in Nigeria, has been investing in crypto since January. Last week, she lost all of her $5,000 in savings as cryptocurrency luna went into free fall.

Isah, a recently unemployed administrative officer, vowed she would never invest in crypto again.

“I can’t believe I fell for crypto,” she told Reuters by phone. “I’m just trying not to get myself depressed. Crypto has taken my money, fine. It shouldn’t take my head.”

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The crypto market, known for its wild price swings, slumped last week as investors yanked money from riskier assets amid worries over soaring inflation and rising interest rates.

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, fell as low as $25,401 on Thursday, its lowest since Dec. 2020. It hit a record high of $69,000 in November.

Small tokens were hit too, with ether, the second-largest token, dropping more than 15% to its lowest since June. Luna – a digital coin widely hyped on social media and backed by institutional crypto investors – shed nearly all of its value.

Small traders such as Isah have flocked to cryptocurrencies in the hope of quick returns, despite warnings from regulators that the emerging assets can be high risk.

Platforms such as Robinhood, which has 23 million customers across a variety of assets, have helped spur retail investing, including in crypto. Around a quarter of Robinhood’s transaction-based revenues came from cryptocurrencies in the first quarter of this year, Robinhood said in its latest earnings statement.

Overall user numbers at crypto platforms have ballooned. Binance, the world’s biggest crypto exchange, had some 118 million clients last month, up from 43.4 million in the first quarter of last year.

But after last week’s turmoil, online forums were awash with tales of woe, as retail investors expressed anguish about their losses.

“I’m 49, big mortgage, 3 kids etc. My retirement party is on ice for the foreseeable future!”, a user with the handle Boring-Fun-3646 said on Reddit.

Another user with the handle AdventurousAdagio830 posted on Reddit: “It doesn’t seem real that I lost $180,000.”

‘DEATH SPIRAL’

Emblematic of crypto risks was the collapse last week of terraUSD, a stablecoin designed to keep a constant value via a complex algorithm that involved luna.

When the coins came under heavy selling pressure, the system broke down. TerraUSD – designed to keep a value of $1 – traded around 9 cents on Tuesday while luna plunged to near-zero, based on CoinGecko data. read more

Tejan Shrivastava, a 31-year old graphic designer from Mumbai, who has been investing in cryptocurrencies for the last year, had his $250 investment wiped out by luna’s collapse.

“It was stuck in a death spiral. All the money was gone in 15 minutes,” he told Reuters.

“I don’t even know if I’ll invest in crypto in the future. I have a crypto portfolio, but I am planning to liquidate it once it reaches break even.”

Luna’s fall wiped out most of its market value which had been above $40 billion as recently as early April, CoinGecko data shows.

Retail investors’ online frustration even spilled over into the real world.

Seoul police last week said they were seeking a suspect after an unidentified individual rang the doorbell of the apartment of Do Kwon, the founder of terraUSD, and ran away.

Police would investigate whether the suspect had invested in cryptocurrencies, a Seoul police officer told Reuters.

PATCHY REGULATION

Through its 13-year life, the crypto sector has been peppered by vertiginous climbs and sudden free falls. In November, for instance, bitcoin slumped by a fifth in just under two weeks after touching a record $69,000. Six months earlier, it had tumbled by almost 40% in just nine days.

Yet crypto’s latest crash – which pushed the sector’s combined value to $1.2 trillion, less than half of where it was last November – led to the crushing of luna, which on May 1 was the eighth-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalisation.

Cryptocurrencies are subject to patchy regulation across the world, with traders of bitcoin and the panapoly of smaller tokens typically unprotected against price slumps.

But it is difficult to gauge the scale of retail investors’ pain from the crypto plunge and the repercussions on future appetite given the opaque nature of the market.

In Britain more than 4% of adults – some 2.3 million people – own cryptocurrencies, data published last year by the UK financial watchdog showed.

Britain’s watchdog said understanding of crypto was falling compared with a year earlier, “suggesting that some crypto users may not fully understand what they are buying”.

Still, some small investors are keeping the faith.

Eloisa Marchesoni, based near Tulum in Mexico and investing with a crypto syndicate, said she would not give up.

“I am looking to buy the dip – we are all waiting for bitcoin to go down to $22,000, which is not something too probable but not something that’s ‘not probable at all’.”

Marchesoni is also hedging her crypto bets with physical assets — “cars because you can lease them, watches, real estate”.

Bitcoin was hovering around $30,000 on Tuesday, having lost more than 20% so far this month.

Regulators remain on alert. The British government said last month it will regulate stablecoins. read more

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is toughening its stance. Gary Gensler, SEC chair, said this week investors in cryptocurrencies needed more protections. read more

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Additional reporting by Alun John in Hong Kong and Soo-hyang Choi in Seoul; Writing by Carolyn Cohn, Elizabeth Howcroft and Tom Wilson in London. Editing by Jane Merriman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Cryptocurrencies Melt Down in a ‘Perfect Storm’ of Fear and Panic

Cryptocurrency prices also dropped precipitously. The price of Bitcoin fell as low as $26,000 on Thursday, down 60 percent from its peak in November, before rising somewhat. Since the start of the year, Bitcoin’s price movement has closely mirrored that of the Nasdaq, a benchmark that’s heavily weighted toward technology stocks, suggesting that investors are treating it like any other risk asset.

The price of Ether plunged, too, losing more than 30 percent of its value over the last week. Other cryptocurrencies, like Solana and Cardano, are also down.

Any panic might be overblown, some analysts said. A study by Mizuho showed that the average Bitcoin owner on Coinbase would not lose money until the digital currency’s price sank below $21,000. That, according to Mr. Dolev, is where a true death spiral could occur.

“Bitcoin was working as long as no one lost money,” he said. “Once it gets back to those levels, that’s sort of the ‘Oh, my God’ moment.”

Professional investors who have weathered past crypto volatility also stayed calm. Hunter Horsley, chief executive of Bitwise Asset Management, which provides crypto investing services to 1,000 financial advisers, met with more than 70 of them this week to discuss the market. Many were not selling, he said, because every other asset was down, too. Some were even trying to capitalize on the drop.

“Their standpoint is, ‘This is no fun, but there is nowhere to hide,’” he said.

Still, the plummeting prices have rattled crypto traders. Just a few months ago, blockchain proponents were predicting that Bitcoin’s price could rise as high as $100,000 this year.

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Bitcoin Is Increasingly Acting Like Just Another Tech Stock

SAN FRANCISCO — Bitcoin was conceived more than a decade ago as “digital gold,” a long-term store of value that would resist broader economic trends and provide a hedge against inflation.

But Bitcoin’s crashing price over the last month shows that vision is a long way from reality. Instead, traders are increasingly treating the cryptocurrency like just another speculative tech investment.

Since the start of this year, Bitcoin’s price movement has closely mirrored that of the Nasdaq, a benchmark that’s heavily weighted toward technology stocks, according to an analysis by the data firm Arcane Research. That means that as Bitcoin’s price dropped more than 25 percent over the last month, to under $30,000 on Wednesday — less than half its November peak — the plunge came in near lock step with a broader collapse of tech stocks as investors grappled with higher interest rates and the war in Ukraine.

The growing correlation helps explain why those who bought the cryptocurrency last year, hoping it would grow more valuable, have seen their investment crater. And while Bitcoin has always been volatile, its increasing resemblance to risky tech stocks starkly shows that its promise as a transformative asset remains unfulfilled.

institutional investors like hedge funds, endowments and family offices that have poured money into the cryptocurrency market.

declining revenue and a loss of $430 million in the first quarter. The company’s stock has fallen more than 75 percent overall this year.

The Nasdaq is already in bear-market territory, having ended Wednesday down 29 percent from its mid-November record. November was also when Bitcoin’s price hit a peak of nearly $70,000. The crash has been a reality check for Bitcoin evangelists.

Ukrainian counteroffensive near Kharkiv appears to have contributed to sharply reduced Russian shelling in the eastern city. But Moscow’s forces are making advances along other parts of the front line.

Bitcoin has rebounded from major losses before, and its long-term growth remains impressive. Before the pandemic boom in crypto prices, its value hovered well below $10,000. True believers, who call themselves Bitcoin maximalists, remain adamant that the cryptocurrency will eventually break from its correlation with risk assets.

Michael Saylor, the chief executive of the business-intelligence company MicroStrategy, has spent billions of his firm’s money on Bitcoin, building up a stockpile of more than 125,000 coins. As the price of Bitcoin has cratered, the company’s stock has dropped roughly 75 percent since November.

In an email, Mr. Saylor blamed the crash on “traders and technocrats” who don’t appreciate Bitcoin’s long-term potential to transform the global financial system.

“In the near term, the market will be dominated by those with less appreciation of the virtues of Bitcoin,” he said. “Over the long term, the maximalists will be proven correct, because billions of people need this solution, and awareness is spreading to millions more each month.”

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Divorcing Couples Fight Over the Kids, the House and Now the Crypto

“Francis has been less than forthright with his ever-changing stories,” Ms. deSouza’s lawyers claimed in one filing.

No secret stash ever materialized. A spokeswoman for Mr. deSouza said he had disclosed the entirety of his cryptocurrency holdings at the beginning of the divorce. “As soon as Francis knew that the Bitcoin was caught up in the Mt. Gox bankruptcy, he told his ex-wife,” the spokeswoman said. “Had the Mt. Gox bankruptcy not occurred, the division of the BTC would have been entirely uncontroversial.”

Ms. deSouza declined to comment through her lawyer.

But the appeals court found that Mr. deSouza, 51, who is now the chief executive of the biotech company Illumina, had violated rules of the divorce process by failing to keep his wife fully apprised of his cryptocurrency investments.

He was ordered to give Ms. deSouza about half the total number of Bitcoins he had owned before the Mt. Gox bankruptcy, leaving him with 57 Bitcoins, worth roughly $2.5 million at today’s prices. Ms. deSouza’s Bitcoins are now worth more than $23 million.

Not all crypto divorces involve such large sums. A few years ago, Nick Himonidis, a forensic investigator in New York, worked on a divorce case in which a woman accused her husband of underreporting his cryptocurrency holdings. With the court’s authorization, Mr. Himonidis showed up at the husband’s house and searched his laptop. He found a digital wallet, which contained roughly $700,000 of the cryptocurrency Monero.

“He was like: ‘Oh, that wallet? I didn’t think I even had that,’” Mr. Himonidis recalled. “I was like, ‘Seriously, dude?’”

In another case, Mr. Himonidis said, he discovered that a husband had moved $2 million in cryptocurrency out of his account on the Coinbase exchange, a platform where people buy, sell and store digital currencies. A week after his wife filed for divorce, the man transferred the funds to digital wallets, and then left the United States.

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