Computing

Jail for man who took prominent US video-game developer’s details from dark web to mine cryptocurrencies

Jail for man who took prominent US video-game developer's details from dark web to mine cryptocurrencies
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SINGAPORE — A secondary school dropout who fraudulently obtained personal details, including those of a prominent video-game developer, to perform the large-scale mining of cryptocurrencies was sentenced to 10 years’ jail on Thursday (June 23).

Ho Jun Jia, a Singaporean, found these details on the dark web after forging United States driving licenses for others.

One of his victims was Mr Marc Merrill, an American co-founder of Riot Games which had developed the popular multiplayer online game League of Legends.

Ho charged about S$7 million to Mr Merill’s American Express (Amex) card by buying cloud-computing services which he used to mine the cryptocurrencies. Mr Merill ultimately did not lose any money when the services refunded the payments.

Ho, now aged 32, pleaded guilty in March to six charges of unauthorized access to computer material along with six other charges that include cheating, drug consumption and failing to report for a urine test.

Fifteen similar charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.

He remains out on bail of S$180,000 furnished by his father, after a judge allowed him time to settle his personal affairs. This includes completing his work commitments and going for follow-up appointments concerning medical treatment on his nose.

Ho will begin his sentence on July 22.

NO RETURN MADE

Ho’s case first made headlines in October 2019, when the US Department of Justice issued a statement revealing that he faced multiple US federal charges including wire fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft.

When he offered his forgery services on a dark web forum, the forum owner allowed him access to a “Staff/VIP” section that had details of individuals’ names, addresses and credit cards. Ho used this to obtain the personal details of 70 people.

Mr Merrill’s name caught his attention as he knew of the developer’s association with Riot Games. He managed to get Mr Merrill’s Amex account username and password, and gained control of the account.

Between November 2017 and March 2018, Ho acquired about 1,468 units of the cryptocurrency ether and sold 203 units on a local website for about S$350,000. He then spent this and the rest of the cryptocurrency on personal expenses.

Separately in July 2019, he was arrested for consuming methamphetamine. He was then on a 24-month drug supervision order, having been admitted to the Drug Rehabilitation Center the year before.

In September 2019, he was arrested again by officers from the Singapore Police Force’s technology crime investigation branch.

He has not made restitution or paid compensation to his victims.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Ryan Lim sought a total sentence of 10 years’ jail and did not apply for a compensation order because Ho does not have the financial means to pay up.

Ho’s lawyer SS Dhillon asked for seven-and-a-half years’ jail instead.

In mitigation, Mr Dhillon said that Ho suffered from adjustment disorder around end-2017 to August 2018 due to his friend’s betrayal and a breakup with his girlfriend.

His friend, who was also his drug supplier, allegedly stole S$100,000 from him through unauthorized money transfers. This and his breakup had a “devastating effect” on him and led to his adjustment disorder, Mr Dhillon said.

He dropped out of school in Secondary 3 but continued to attend courses to upgrade his skills, the defense counsel added.

In sentencing Ho, District Judge Brenda Tan noted the “massive” value of the services Ho had illegally obtained through the use of stolen identities.

She agreed with the prosecution’s sentencing submissions, adding: “Given the magnitude of Ho’s offending, the extent of harm caused and the sophistication employed, deterrence is the dominant sentencing consideration.”

For each offense of unauthorized access to computer material under the Computer Misuse Act, Ho could have been fined up to S$5,000 or jailed for up to two years, or both.

For cheating by personation, he could have been jailed for up to five years and ended.

The judge ordered that three of the individual sentences run consecutively. Ho received the mandatory minimum of three years’ jail for drug consumption, as well as two-and-a-half years and four-and-a-half years’ jail for two offenses of cheating by personation. The sentences for the computer offenses will run concurrently with the other jail terms.

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