With it being the age of the Internet, there’s no doubt that obtaining personal information about others around the globe has become much easier.
But just because we can obtain such information doesn’t mean we should, and it’s not hard to see why.
Just yesterday (23 June), Singaporean Ho Jun Jia was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment after impersonating two people and cheating Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google to provide him with multi-million-dollar services.
He had used the cloud computing services, which amounted to around US$5.4 million (approximately S$7.5 million) in order for him to run a large-scale cryptocurrency mining operation.
Ho, 32, managed to obtain the personal information of his victims’ on the Dark Web.
Ho pleaded guilty to 12 charges which included cheating, unauthorised access to computer material and drug consumption.
Another 15 similar charges were taken into consideration for his sentencing as well.
Currently, Ho is out on $180,000 bail that his father has paid for him.
District Judge Brenda Tan also gave him permission to defer the start of his sentence to one month later in order for him to “settle personal affairs”.
Crime First Detected in 2019
Back in October 2019, Ho’s deeds first rang alarm bells when the United States Department of Justice released a statement stating that Ho would be charged with federal crimes.
The crimes he committed included wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Ho’s acts started in 2017 when he started to forge US driving licences for other people with the help of Photoshop.
He offered this service on a Dark Web forum.
In exchange for his services, the forum’s owner sent him the names, addresses and credit card information of 70 individuals.
One of His Victims Was a Well-Known Figure
And if you’re thinking that the identities that Ho assumed were just those of random people on the Internet, you couldn’t be more wrong.
One high-profile victim of this case was Mr Marc Merrill, whom gamers may be familiar with.
Mr Merill, an American, is the co-founder and co-chairman of Riot Games, the company that has developed globally well-known games such as League of Legends and Valorant.
Ho was apparently drawn to Mr Merrill’s name as he recognised the latter’s name and his connection with Riot Games.
After receiving Mr Merrill’s username and password to his American Express (AMEX) account, Ho was able to log in and change the account’s email address to another one that looked similar.
This gave him full control of the account.
Thereafter, Ho was able to open a bank account on AWS in Mr Merrill’s name.
Engaged Services; Even Managed to Get AWS to Continue Providing Services After Not Paying Bill
After gaining control of Mr Merrill’s bank account, Ho then engaged various cloud computing services that he used to mine for cryptocurrency, which led to around $7 million being charged to Mr Merrill’s AMEX credit card.
He did so on at least 40 occasions between November 2017 and January 2018.
Even after he did not pay a bill worth US$1.8 million (approximately S$2.5 million) from AWS, Ho was able to convince AWS to continue providing him with cloud computing services.
Apart from that, Ho also registered for an account on the Google cloud platform to purchase cloud-computing services with Mr Merrill’s details.
He bought services worth around US$250,000 (approximately S$347,000) from the platform.
Thankfully, both AWS and Google were able to refund Mr Merrill for the payments made, and he ended up not losing money from this incident.
Continued to Use Another Person’s Identity to Engage More Services
Afterwards, Ho used the personal information of a man by the name of Harold Borland and managed to obtain more services from AWS.
This time, he was able to cheat AWS out of US$21 (approximately S$29) worth of cloud computing services.
With these services engaged, Ho was able to mine around 1,470 units of Ether, a type of cryptocurrency, between November 2017 and March 2018.
Ho also sold 203 of these units for $350,000 and used the money for his personal expenses.
Apart from his cryptocurrency-related offences, Ho was also found guilty of drug offences in 2019 after he took methamphetamine.
During his sentencing, District Judge Tan noted that Ho had used stolen identities to illegally engage services that were of immense monetary value.
“Given the magnitude of his offending, the extent of harm caused and the sophistication employed, deterrence is the dominant sentencing consideration,” she said.
The district judge also added that Ho has yet to make any compensation to any of his victims.
For cheating by personation, Ho could have been penalised with a maximum jail term of five years and a fine.
For each count of unauthorised access to computer material, Ho could have been fined up to $5,000 and been jailed for up to two years.
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