Home Invasion Incentives

Criminals are generally pretty stupid. Especially the type who go after property theft directly. They face a high chance of getting caught and spending years in jail, and their take is generally pretty small. Invading Mariah Carey's house only netted them assets valued at $50,000. These assets were in handbags and accessories so they will be lucky to get anywhere close to half of that value on the black market. If they had found the jewelry they might have made quite a bit more, but most of the assets held by the wealthy can not be easily appropriated.

There is a reason movie stars are being targeted instead of financiers and entrepreneurs. The exact reason depends on how stupid these criminals actually are. The stupidest reason is that movie stars are widely known to be rich. A slightly better reason may be that movie stars are more likely to have assets in tangible goods such as expensive jewelry in their homes. And perhaps the criminals prefer to only invade empty homes, so society's collective stalking of celebrities allows the criminals to identify periods when no one is home.

As mentioned above, targeting celebrities for tangible assets can make some sense. Old money, entrepreneurs and financiers have most of their assets in stock, registered bonds, property titles and the like which cannot be easily transferred without the consent of owner and the implicit consent of the rest of society. Because even if a transfer is forced, these transactions can be reversed and would be easy to track. Some of the more eccentric wealthy might have precious metal or cash lying around, but it's difficult to know ahead of time which people are eccentric in that manner. If there is any valuable art which might be snatched, the criminal needs to consider that the art is valuable precisely because it is unique and again it cannot be transferred for anywhere close to full value. It will always be known as a stolen piece, art stolen as far back as the Holocaust is still being recovered today. Other valuable assets like fine wine might appear to be a liquid asset*, but they too can be tracked. For the celebrities that some criminals are targeting, there is no way the thieves are ever getting access to the financial assets they bought or their residuals and royalties, but the celebrities are at least known as someone who keeps around expensive handbags and jewelry.

Fortunately for criminals, there are now many people holding immense amounts of wealth that is liquid and hard for governments to track. Currently, that is the main active use for blockchain technology. Some sophisticated criminals are already taking advantage of this, with the rise of ransomware. Ransomware is a computer virus that encrypts a user's data and does not grant access to it until a certain amount of cryptocurrency is sent to the attackers. Researchers have tracked most of this activity back to a Russian cryptocurrency exchange.

While crypto assets requires some expertise to properly dispose of, it provides exactly what local criminals looking for high risk/high reward opportunities should want. If someone owns millions of dollars in crypto those assets can usually be transferred relatively anonymously. This is a higher risk proposition, in which the criminal needs to kidnap and threaten the holder of crypto assets directly. But it is striking that crypto has created for local criminals what was before only a pipe-dream, effective access to significant amounts of their victim's wealth. It might be compared to initiating a wire transfer, but a wire transfer has significantly more complications with regards to who is contacted to initiate it and how to evade safeguards in the financial system. The promise of bitcoin is that the process is simpler, faster and easier to manage.

Criminals are stupid, but they learn eventually. Home invasion robberies are rare, but incentives matter. At least some people have decided to burglarize the homes of celebrities who already have security measures to protect themselves from stalkers for much less upside.

This is just a long winded way of telling my friends who talk a lot about their ownership of crypto assets online to be sure to periodically remind everyone that they keep most of it in cold storage locked up in their bank's safe-deposit box or other safe place away from their homes and family. Because incentives matter, even for stupid criminals.