California student charged in SIM-swap digital currency theft case

The U.S. Department of Justice has charged a university student with theft of digital currencies through SIM swapping. The student is alleged to be the mastermind behind a SIM swap ring that targeted at least 19 victims.

Richard Yuan Li, the alleged perpetrator is a student at the University of California, San Diego. The DoJ claims that beginning January 2018, Li and his gang operated a SIM swap ring that targeted digital currency owners.

In its complaint, filed at a court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, the DoJ alleges that Li contacted Apple and claimed that he hadn’t received an iPhone 8 that he had ordered. Upon receiving the iPhone 8, he carried out the SIM swap, giving him access to his victims’ online identities. He went on to access their email accounts and consequently, their digital currencies wallets.

Li and his co-conspirators transferred an unknown amount of digital currencies to their own accounts. They also reached out to some victims and demanded ransom in exchange for control of the victims’ online accounts and digital currency wallets.

In one instance, they called one of the victims and told him that they had accessed photos stored on his Gmail account. They demanded 100 BTC in ransom, threatening to release the photos if the victim didn’t meet their demands.

The DoJ claims that altogether, Li conducted 28 SIM swaps, targeting 19 victims in Louisiana, California and Florida. It recommended that he forfeits any property or proceeds he derived from the offenses. In case he has sold any of the proceeds or it has diminished in value, the court should “seek a money judgment and forfeiture of any other property of the defendant up to the value of said property.”

The complaint comes just a month after a digital currency investor sued a New York teen for $71 million in damages in yet another SIM swap case. The investor, Michael Terpin, claimed that the defendant, Ellis Pinsky stole $24 million in digital currencies from him in 2015. At the time, Pinsky was just 15.

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