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Man used prominent video-game developer’s details obtained from dark web to mine cryptocurrencies

SINGAPORE — After fraudulently obtaining the personal details of several people from the dark web, Ho Jun Jia used this information to buy cloud computing services and perform the large-scale mining of cryptocurrencies.

Ho Jun Jia leaving the State Courts on March 7, 2022.
Ho Jun Jia leaving the State Courts on March 7, 2022.
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  • Ho Jun Jia, 32, had access to a dark web forum section containing individuals' personal details
  • He used them to buy cloud computing services and mine cryptocurrencies, selling and using the virtual currency on his personal expenses
  • He charged about S$7 million to the credit card of Mr Marc Merrill, co-founder of a US video games developer
  • Ho will return to court next month to be sentenced

SINGAPORE — After fraudulently obtaining the personal details of several people from the dark web, Ho Jun Jia used this information to buy cloud computing services and perform the large-scale mining of cryptocurrencies.

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, a Singaporean, pleaded guilty in a district court on Monday (March 7) to 12 charges that include drug consumption and unauthorised access to computer material.

The 32-year-old, who is represented by defence counsel SS Dhillon, has yet to be sentenced and will return to court on April 20.

Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun will take into consideration 14 other similar charges for sentencing purposes.

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.

The court heard that in 2016, he registered an account with Amazon Web Services and bought cloud-computing services using his own particulars and debit card to mine cryptocurrency. This is the process that several cryptocurrencies use to generate new coins and verify transactions.

However, Amazon terminated his account and banned him when he was unable to pay for several months.

The next year, he got into the business of forging US driving licences for others, offering his services on a dark web forum.

In return, 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. Ho then did some online research to find out more information about Mr Merrill, using the man’s credit cards to subscribe to an ancestry site and get details about his family background.

He managed to get Mr Merrill's username and password to his American Express (Amex) account. Upon logging in, he changed the email address to a similar-sounding one he had just created and gained control of the account.

Ho then used Mr Merrill's details to register for a new account with Amazon.

On at least 40 occasions between November 2017 and January 2018, he used Mr Merrill's Amex card details to purchase about US$5.2 million (S$7 million) in cloud computing and related services. He persuaded Amazon to continue providing the services even after not paying his US$1.8 million bill.

When Amazon asked for verification of Mr Merrill's identity, Ho forged a US driving licence using Mr Merrill's photo and downloaded a copy of his Amex monthly bill.

Ho also similarly used Mr Merrill's details to register and buy cloud-computing services worth about US$250,000 through the Google Cloud Platform.

Amazon refunded payment of US$125,800 for November 2017 after receiving a charge-back request from Amex. Google also refunded payments charged to Mr Merrill's Amex card following internal investigations.

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 Centre the year before.

In September 2019, he was then 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.

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