Indicted Russians used PayPal and cryptocurrency exchange accounts

Russians indicted in a federal grand jury for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential elections used false identification to maintain accounts at PayPal and online cryptocurrency exchanges, according to the indictment.

Robert Mueller released on Friday the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for meddling in the 2016 presidential election, including efforts to boost then-candidate Donald Trump.

“In order to maintain their accounts at PayPal and elsewhere, including online cryptocurrency exchanges, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased and obtained false identification documents, including fake U.S. driver’s licenses,” the indictment said.

The defendants and their “co-conspirators” used the accounts opened at PayPal and “a federally insured U.S. financial institution” to receive and send money for buying advertisements on Facebook, paraphernalia for political rallies and other promotional activities, according to the indictment.

PayPal said in a statement to CNBC on Friday that the company is “intensely focused on combatting and preventing the illicit use of our services. We work closely with law enforcement, and did so in this matter, to identify, investigate and stop improper or potentially illegal activity.”

PayPal and its mobile payments app Venmo recently warned users of possible delayed money transfers due to increased scrutiny.

One of the earliest uses of the most popular cryptocurrency, bitcoin, was for buying illegal goods and services online in an anonymous part of the internet called the dark web. CNBC reported in August that criminals are finding that bitcoin is actually more traceable than originally thought and are moving to other cryptocurrencies. But financial authorities from India to the U.S. Treasury have said they are focused on preventing illegal activity in cryptocurrencies.

A second indictment released Friday said defendant Richard Pinedo operated an online service called “Auction Essistance” whose services included evading the security features of large online digital payment companies.

Pinedo also sold bank account numbers, registered in his own name or purchased online, which were often created using stolen identities, the indictment said. His operations affected “hundreds of bank account numbers,” and Pinedo himself collected “tens of thousands of dollars … through the sale of these bank account numbers.”

— CNBC’s Anita Balakrishnan contributed to this report.

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