Singaporean man, 29, charged in US for sophisticated identity theft and wire fraud

Posed photo of a hacker. The suspect allegedly ran a large-scale cryptocurrency mining operation, propelled predominantly, if not exclusively, through fraud and identity theft. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - A Singapore citizen, 29-year-old Ho Jun Jia, also known as Matthew Ho, has been charged in Seattle, Washington, with federal crimes related to alleged mining of cryptocurrencies using stolen computing power and services, obtained with stolen identity and credit card account information of California and Texas residents.

According to a statement from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), Ho was taken into custody by the Singapore Police Force on Sept 26, and is being investigated for various alleged offences committed under Singapore law.

According to the DOJ, between October 2017 and February 2018, following the surge in value and popularity of cryptocurrencies, Ho "ran a large-scale cryptocurrency mining operation, propelled predominantly, if not exclusively, through fraud and identity theft".

The indictment describes Ho's activity as a "sophisticated fraud scheme".

"The essence of the scheme and artifice to defraud was to use stolen personal and financial information to open accounts in the names of others, without authorisation, in order to obtain things of value, including computing and data storage services," it says.

In this way, Ho generated cryptocurrency units which he then sold and exchanged for regular currency.

He allegedly used stolen identity and credit card information of a prominent California video-game developer to open cloud computing accounts at multiple American cloud service providers, which he used to mine cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum.

He created a "web of phony e-mail accounts and used social engineering techniques to trick cloud computing providers to approve heightened account privileges, increased computer processing power and storage, and deferred billing", the DOJ said.

Ho used the fraudulently obtained computing power to mine cryptocurrency - in which "miners" essentially compete to verify blockchain transactions and receive an amount of cryptocurrency in return, the DOJ said.

"In the few months his scheme remained active, Ho consumed more than US$5 million (S$6.9 million) in unpaid cloud computing services with his mining operation and, for a brief period, was one of Amazon Web Services (AWS) largest consumers of data usage by volume," the DOJ said.

"Some of the bills were paid by the California game developer's financial staff before the fraud was detected," the department added.

Ho apparently also used the identities of a Texas resident and the founder of a tech company in India, and in addition to AWS, opened cloud services accounts with Google Cloud Services, which he similarly used as part of his cryptocurrency mining operation.

Wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and access device fraud by up to 10 years. "Aggravated identity theft" is punishable by a mandatory two years in prison to run consecutive to any other sentences imposed in the case.

The DOJ said the case is being investigated by the FBI Seattle Office's Cyber Crime Unit, with assistance from the Singapore Police Force - Technology Crime Investigation Branch, the Attorney General's Chambers of Singapore, the US DOJ's Criminal Division's Office of International Affairs, and the FBI Legal Attache Office.

When contacted about the case, the Singapore Police Force confirmed that a 29-year-old man has been arrested and charged for an offence under the Computer Misuse Act, and that they are investigating the matter.

Singapore court documents show that a 29-year-old man called Ho Jun Jia was charged under the Computer Misuse Act late last month and for drug offences earlier this month.

The Straits Times understands that this was the same man, Ho, charged in the US.

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