Game developer

Man used details of a prominent video game developer obtained from the dark web to mine cryptocurrencies

SINGAPORE — After fraudulently obtaining several people’s personal data on the dark web, Ho Jun Jia used the information to purchase cloud computing services and large-scale cryptocurrency mining.

One of his victims was Mr. Marc Merrill, an American co-founder of Riot Games who had developed the popular online multiplayer game League of Legends.

Ho, a Singaporean, pleaded guilty in a district court on Monday (March 7) to 12 charges, including drug use and unauthorized access to computer equipment.

The 32-year-old, who is represented by defense lawyer SS Dhillon, has not yet been convicted and will return to court on April 20.

Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun will consider 14 other similar charges for sentencing purposes.

Ho’s case first made headlines in October 2019, when the US Department of Justice released a statement revealing he was facing 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 purchased cloud computing services using his own details and debit card to mine cryptocurrency. This is the process several cryptocurrencies use to generate new coins and verify transactions.

However, Amazon terminated his account and banned him when he couldn’t pay for several months.

The following year, he branched out into manufacturing US driver’s licenses for others, offering his services on a dark web forum.

In return, the forum owner granted him access to a “Personal/VIP” section which contained details of individuals’ names, addresses and credit cards. Ho used it to obtain the personal data of 70 people.

Mr. Merrill’s name caught his eye because he knew of the developer’s association with Riot Games. Ho then researched online to find out more about Mr Merrill, using the man’s credit cards to subscribe to an ancestry site and get details of his family history.

He managed to obtain Mr. Merrill’s username and password for his American Express (Amex) account. When logging in, he replaced the email address with a similar address he had just created and took control of the account.

Ho then used Mr. Merrill’s contact details to create 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 around US$5.2 million (S$7 million) in cloud computing and related services. He persuaded Amazon to continue providing the services even after he failed to pay his US$1.8 million bill.

When Amazon requested verification of Mr. Merrill’s identity, Ho forged a US driver’s license using Mr. Merrill’s photo and uploaded a copy of his monthly Amex bill.

Ho also used Mr. Merrill’s details to register and purchase cloud computing services worth around $250,000 through Google Cloud Platform.

Amazon refunded the $125,800 payment for November 2017 after receiving a chargeback 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 around 1,468 units of the cryptocurrency ether and sold 203 units on a local website for around S$350,000. He then spent that and the rest of the cryptocurrency on his personal expenses.

Separately in July 2019, he was arrested for methamphetamine use. He was then subject to a 24-month drug supervision order, having been admitted to the drug rehabilitation center the previous year.

In September 2019, he was later re-arrested by officers from the Tech Crime Investigation Branch of the Singapore Police Force.

He did not restitute or compensate his victims.