An NFT, or Non-Fungible Token, is a digital asset representing ownership or proof of authenticity of a unique item or piece of content using blockchain technology. Unlike cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, which are fungible and can be exchanged on a one-to-one basis, NFTs are non-interchangeable and one-of-a-kind. As long as you’re following copyright laws and selling legitimate assets, creating, selling, and reselling NFTs is legal. However, due to the decentralized and anonymous nature of the crypto world, NFTs come with a host of legal issues. Like with most digital innovations, regulatory legislation has been slow to catch up and establish clear guidelines; still, wrongful use of NFTs can implicate an array of criminal charges.
Money Laundering refers to the illegal process of concealing the origins of money obtained through criminal activities, making it appear as if it comes from a legitimate source. This is criminalized under 18 U.S.C. § 1956. Money laundering using NFTs involves the illicit use of these digital assets to disguise the origins of illegally obtained funds. In this context, individuals create a fake record of sales on the blockchain by selling NFTs to themselves using different accounts. Once finished, they sell the NFT to an unsuspecting buyer and repeat the process.
Fraud has grown increasingly common in the crypto landscape due to its anonymous and decentralized nature. Fraud involving NFTs can manifest in various ways due to the unique characteristics of these digital assets. This is mostly being prosecuted as wire fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1343. Some common forms of fraud associated with NFTs include: