Probation report called for youth who cheated Microsoft of laptops worth $193k

The youth pleaded guilty on Feb 22 to one charge of conspiring to cheat Microsoft and three counts of acquiring property that were benefits from criminal conduct. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - He was just 16 when he cheated tech company Microsoft into sending him 56 laptops worth around $193,000 by submitting false warranty claims.

The Singaporean teen had conspired with an American to run the scheme of buying the serial numbers of laptops with valid warranties from online forums and using them to submit claims for faulty devices.

The youth, now 20, cannot be named under the Children and Young Persons Act as he was under 18 at the time of the offences.

He pleaded guilty on Tuesday (Feb 22) to one charge of conspiring to cheat Microsoft and three counts of acquiring property representing benefits from criminal conduct.

The court heard that Microsoft ran a warranty programme for its Surface laptops in 2017 for corporate customers based in the United States.

The terms of the programme stated that customers could get an advance exchange of defective laptops during the warranty period. This meant that customers could receive a replacement device before returning their defective item to Microsoft.

To make such a claim, customers must provide the serial number of a Surface laptop with a valid warranty.

Some time between August and October 2017, the accused discovered that the serial numbers of such laptops could be purchased from online forums for about US$25 (S$34) each.

He shared this information with his American accomplice, Justin David May, whom he met online in a private forum.

The accused bought the serial numbers of Microsoft Surface laptops and used them to submit warranty claims for faulty devices.

He used a US-based address given by May for Microsoft to deliver the replacement devices.

When the devices arrived, May shipped them to the accused.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Samuel Chew said: "As a result of the accused's deception, Microsoft was dishonestly induced into delivering 56 units of Surface laptops valued at US$143,144 in total."

May, who kept some of the laptops, was charged in the US in January 2018 for a series of offences including mail fraud against Microsoft.

The Singapore Police received information from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in May 2018 that the accused was suspected of fraud.

The accused sold the laptops on e-commerce platform Carousell for between $1,700 and $2,500 each.

He claimed to have converted the proceeds to Bitcoin and that he lost everything when the price of the cryptocurrency plummeted in 2018.

District Judge Kessler Soh postponed sentencing pending a probation report on March 31.

For conspiring to cheat, the youth can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

The offence of acquiring property representing benefits from criminal conduct carries a maximum penalty of a $500,000 fine and a 10-year jail term.

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