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10 years' jail for Singaporean who impersonated US game developer to run crypto mining

A Singaporean was sentenced to 10 years' jail on Thursday (June 23) for impersonating two individuals to run a large-scale cryptocurrency mining operation.

Ho Jun Jia, 32, had illegally obtained their personal information to deceive Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google for about US$5.4 million (S$7.6 million) worth ofcloud computing services.

One of his victims was Mr Marc Merrill, the American co-chairman of Riot Games, known for developing popular titles such as League of Legends and Valorant.

Ho had used Mr Merrill's details to open an account on AWS and charged about $7 million to the latter's American Express (Amex) card for cloud computing services to mine for cryptocurrency.

Ho had pleaded guilty earlier to 12 charges including cheating, unauthorised access to computer material and drug consumption.

Another 15 similar charges were taken into consideration for his sentencing.

He is out on a $180,000 bail paid by his father after District Judge Brenda Tan allowed him to defer his sentence by a month to settle his personal affairs.

Ho's case was first reported in October 2019, when the United States Department of Justice issued a statement saying he had been charged with federal crimes including wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

In 2017, he forged US driving licenses for others using Photoshop and offered them on a dark web forum. In return, the forum owner gave him the names, addresses and credit card details of 70 people.

Mr Merrill's name caught Ho's attention as heknew of the developer's association with Riot Games.

He was able to get Mr Merrill's username and password to his Amex account. Upon logging in, he changed the e-mail address to a similar sounding one and took control of the account.

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

On at least 40 occasions between November 2017 and January 2018, he used Mr Merrill's Amex card to purchase about US$5.2 million in cloud computing services.

He persuaded AWS to continue providing the services even after not paying a bill worth US$1.8 million.

He also used Mr Merrill's details to register and buy cloud-computing services worth around US$250,000 through the Google cloud platform.

Mr Merrill ultimately did not lose any money asthe services refunded the payments.

Ho went on to run the same scheme with AWS using the details of a man named Harold Borland, cheating the company into providing cloud computing services.

Between November 2017 and March 2018, Ho mined about 1,470 units of the cryptocurrency Ether.He later sold 203 units for around $350,000, which he spent on personal expenses.

Ho was also convicted of drug offences in 2019 for taking methamphetamine.

In sentencing him, District Judge Tan said he had illegally obtained a massive value of services through the use of stolen identities.

"Given the magnitude of his offending, the extent of harm caused and the sophistication employed, deterrence is the dominant sentencing consideration," she said.

The judge noted that he had not made any restitution to his victims.

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

For each count of unauthorised access to computer material, Ho could have been fined $5,000 and jailed for up to two years.

COURT & CRIMEcrimeComputer gameCRYPTOCURRENCIES