Game developer

Prison for the man who took the details of a prominent American video game developer from the dark web to mine cryptocurrencies

SINGAPORE – A high school dropout who fraudulently obtained personal information, including that of a prominent video game developer, to carry out large-scale cryptocurrency mining was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Thursday (June 23) for various offences.

Ho Jun Jia, a Singaporean, found this personal information on the dark web after forging US driver’s licenses for others.

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 charged around S$7 million on Mr Merill’s American Express (Amex) card by buying cloud services he used to mine cryptocurrencies. Mr Merill ultimately did not lose any money when the services refunded the payments.

Ho, now 32, pleaded guilty in March to six counts of unauthorized access to computer equipment as well as six other counts including cheating, drug use and failure to show up for a urine test.

Fifteen similar charges were considered for sentencing.

He remains free on bail of S$180,000 provided by his father, after a judge granted him time to settle his personal affairs. This includes fulfilling her professional commitments and scheduling follow-up appointments for medical treatment of her nose.

Ho will begin his sentence on July 22.

NO REFUNDS MADE

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.

When he offered his counterfeit services on a dark web forum, 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. He managed to obtain Mr. Merrill’s Amex account username and password and took control of the account.

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 re-arrested by officers from the Tech Crime Investigation Branch of the Singapore Police Force.

He did not restitute or compensate his victims.

Assistant Attorney General Ryan Lim has requested a total sentence of 10 years in prison and has not requested a compensation order because Ho does not have the financial means to pay.

Ho’s lawyer, SS Dhillon, asked for seven and a half years in prison instead.

By way of mitigation, Mr Dhillon said Ho suffered from adjustment disorder between late 2017 and August 2018 due to his friend’s betrayal and a breakup with his girlfriend.

His friend, who was also his drug dealer, allegedly stole S$100,000 from him through unauthorized money transfers. This and his breakup had a “devastating effect” on him and led to his adjustment disorder, Mr Dhillon said.

He dropped out of school in Secondary 3 but continued to take courses to improve, added the defense lawyer.

During Ho’s sentencing, District Judge Brenda Tan noted the “enormous” value of the services Ho had obtained illegally through the use of stolen identities.

She agreed with the prosecution’s sentencing submissions, adding: “Given the scale of Ho’s offending, the extent of the damage caused and the sophistication employed, deterrence is the consideration dominant in sentencing.”

For each offense of unauthorized access to computer equipment under the Computer Misuse Act, Ho could have been fined up to S$5,000 or imprisoned for up to go up to two years, or both.

For cheating by impersonation, he could have been imprisoned for up to five years and fined.

The judge ordered that three of the individual sentences be served consecutively.

Ho was sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison for drug use, as well as two and a half and four and a half years in prison for two offenses of impersonation scam.

Sentences for computer offenses will run concurrently with other prison sentences.