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S’porean man faces charges over alleged ‘sophisticated’ cryptocurrency fraud in US

SINGAPORE — A 29-year-old Singaporean is facing a string of charges in both the United States and Singapore over the alleged large-scale mining of cryptocurrencies using stolen identity and credit card information of US residents, among other allegations.

S’porean man faces charges over alleged ‘sophisticated’ cryptocurrency fraud in US

Ho Jun Jia, also known as Matthew Ho, was taken into custody in Singapore by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) on Sept 26.

SINGAPORE — A 29-year-old Singaporean is facing a string of charges in both the United States and Singapore over alleged large-scale mining of cryptocurrencies using stolen identity and credit card information of US residents, among other allegations.

Ho Jun Jia, also known as Matthew Ho, was arrested in Singapore on Sept 26.

In response to queries from TODAY, a Singapore Police Force (SPF) spokesperson said on Thursday (Oct 10): “The police confirm that a 29-year-old man has been arrested and charged with an offence under the Computer Misuse Act on Sept 26. Investigations are ongoing.”

Court documents show Ho faces three other charges in Singapore including for alleged consumption of methamphetamine. He is due to appear in court in Singapore on Oct 15.

The cryptocurrency allegations were outlined in a statement by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) issued by the US Embassy on Thursday, which said Ho faced US federal charges including wire fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft. A 14-count indictment was unsealed in Seattle on Wednesday, it added.

The investigation of Ho involved the US Federal Bureau of Investigations’ (FBI) cyber crime unit in Seattle, assisted by the SPF’s technology crime investigation branch, the Attorney-General’s Chambers of Singapore, the US DOJ criminal division’s office of international affairs and the FBI legal attache office, the statement said.

The DOJ statement added that Ho was also being investigated for “various alleged offences” committed under Singapore law.

The statement did not specify where Ho was located when he allegedly committed the offences.

‘LARGE-SCALE CRYPTOCURRENCY MINING OPERATION’

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

He allegedly used the identity and credit card information of a prominent California video-game developer, which was not named, to open cloud computing accounts at multiple US cloud service providers, which he used to mine various cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum.

The indictment describes Ho’s activity as a “sophisticated fraud scheme”.

“Ho created a web of phony email 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,” said the DOJ.

He also fraudulently obtained computing power to mine cryptocurrency — a process in which miners compete to verify blockchain transactions and receive an amount of cryptocurrency in return — which he used to exchange for traditional funds on various marketplace websites.

“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 agency added.

UP TO 20 YEARS IN PRISON IF CONVICTED

Ho also allegedly 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.

The US offence of wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison while device access fraud is punishable by up to 10 years' jail. Aggravated identity theft is punishable by a mandatory two years in prison to run consecutively to any other sentence imposed in the case, said the DOJ.

In Singapore, Ho faces four charges in the State Courts — one for alleged consumption of methamphetamine around July 19 this year. According to court documents, he was sent to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre in September last year for consuming the drug.

He is also accused of retaining the personal information of one Nicholas Ryan, including his address and credit card details, around Sept 25.

Between Oct 19 and 20, 2017, Ho also allegedly accessed a credit card account on the American Express server and changed its email address. The account was under the username “Merrillot”.

In relation to the Singapore offences, if convicted of unauthorised access to computer material and illegally obtaining personal information about another person, Ho can be jailed for up to two years, fined up to S$5,000, or both.

If convicted of unauthorised modification of computer material, he can be jailed for up to three years, fined up to S$10,000, or both.

Related topics

cryptocurrency steal USA credit card cloud computing Bitcoin Ethereum

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