China, bitcoin, handcuffs
A bitcoin-mining grandmother in China, age 61, was sentenced to four months in jail for stealing electricity while mining the cryptocurrency. | Source: (i) Shutterstock (ii) Shutterstock; Edited by CCN

By CCN: Chinese authorities sentenced a 61-year-old grandmother to four months in jail for stealing electricity while mining bitcoin. Qiuping Tang was also fined 10,000 yuan (about $1,500) for electricity theft.

A federal court in the Hebei Province of China made the decision pursuant to a lawsuit filed by the Tangshan Power Supply Company, Chinese media reported. Specifically, Tang was charged with stealing about $1,300 worth of electricity while mining bitcoin between January and October 2018.

Tang’s Bitcoin Mining Profits Were a Meager $940

Bitcoin mining uses a lot of electricity, so it’s no surprise that power theft is a common crime among miners.

Authorities say Tang operated four bitcoin mining rigs, including one regulator and one mobile device using stolen electricity. She earned about $940 from her mining activities but ran up electricity costs of $1,300.

After being arrested, Tang confessed to her crime and reimbursed the electricity company. She also paid a fine to the Chinese State Treasury. In total, Tang paid more than $3,600 to settle her case.

Harsh Treatment Raises Eyebrows

There are a couple of surprising revelations about this report. The first is that a 61-year-old grandmother is so crypto-savvy that she was mining bitcoin in her free time.

This is surprising (and impressive) since the prevailing image is that crypto is mainly popular among millennials. At least that’s the case in the United States and Europe, according to recent research.

The second surprise is how harsh Chinese authorities were on an old woman who confessed to her crimes, paid her fines to the government, and reimbursed the electricity company. It’s clear that the authorities wanted to send a forceful message to deter other thieves.

China Cracks Down on Bitcoin Mining

As CCN reported, China has cracked down on bitcoin mining amid recurring problems with scams and electricity theft. Despite the government’s repeated suppression efforts, bitcoin mining remains fairly popular there.

In April 2018, police in the Chinese port city of Tianjin confiscated 600 bitcoin mining computers in the largest case of power theft in recent years.

The alleged theft was discovered after the local power grid operator observed an abnormal surge in electricity consumption. An investigation later revealed that bitcoin miners had tampered with a junction box to short-circuit the meters in order to avoid being charged for their power usage.

And in December 2018, a bitcoin miner in Taiwan was arrested for mining $14.5 million in crypto using $3.2 million in stolen electricity. The perpetrator allegedly operated 17 illegal cryptocurrency mining centers using fake storefronts across Taiwan.

Some Chinese Miners Moved to Iran for Cheaper Electricity

In fact, electricity theft has become so common among bitcoin miners in China that some migrated to Iran in 2018 for the cheaper electricity there. However, many found the harsh environment in Iran unwelcoming.

Because of Iran’s generous electricity subsidy, the government has banned crypto mining rigs at border checks. As a result, mining equipment often gets confiscated at the border, according to Feng Liu, who operates a bitcoin mine holding over 20,000 units of Antminer T9.

“The risk of miners being detained and confiscated at the border is quite high,” Liu said. “It’s said that Iranian customs have so far confiscated at least 40,000 crypto mining rigs of various models.”

This article was edited by Gerelyn Terzo.

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