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a university of californiaFederal prosecutors said Monday that a San Diego student obtained the cell phone accounts of at least 40 people in an attempt to milk their cryptocurrency information and blackmailed one victim by threatening to release objectionable photos.

Richard Yuan Lee, 21, of Hercules, Calif., is facing conspiracy and conspiracy to engage in interstate communications with intent to commit extortion and computer fraud and abuse, among other charges. Charges were filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.


Prosecutors did not say how much cryptocurrency Lee allegedly stole or how the SIM swap scheme went down. He said that he activated at least 40 numbers on his iPhone between July and December 2018.

According to court documents, he is accused of participating in a SIM card scam and defrauding Apple. Prosecutors said Lee and a conspirator tricked an Apple representative into sending them an iPhone 8 after claiming they hadn’t been sent the one they bought.

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Officials said they arranged for the victims’ telephone numbers to be converted into SIM cards in the cell phones in their possession. By doing so, they were able to gain access to email and bank accounts and cryptocurrency wallets from their dorm rooms.

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In one case, Lee stole cryptocurrency from a New Orleans doctor and then tried to blackmail him into handing over more by threatening to share nude images of him. According to the court filing, Doc held multiple cryptocurrency accounts with Binance, Bittrex, Coinbase, Germini, and others.

Another person charged in connection with the scheme, Stephen Daniels DeFiore, 36, of Brandon, Florida, was charged in February with swapping SIMs of phone customers for $500 a day. The cellphone company was not disclosed.

Lee faces up to 20 years in prison.