$1.6 million forfeited to the Commonwealth following AFP and FBI investigation
A convicted hacker who sold stolen Netflix and Spotify subscriptions has been ordered to forfeit more than $1.66 million in cryptocurrency and cash to the Commonwealth after an Australian Federal Police investigation.
A Sydney man, 23, conspired with a man in the United States to steal the log-ins and passwords of streaming service customers and then sold them online at a cheaper rate.
After the Sydney offender pleaded guilty to various criminal offences in October 2020, the AFP-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce (CACT) obtained restraining orders over cryptocurrency plus bank and PayPal accounts held in false names, but suspected to be controlled by the man.
Last week, the Supreme Court of NSW ordered the forfeiture of $1.66 million to the Commonwealth Confiscated Assets Account.
The amount of cryptocurrency forfeited, more than $1.2 million, is the largest Commonwealth forfeiture of cryptocurrency.
The funds will be redistributed by Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews to support crime prevention, law enforcement and community-safety related initiatives.
“Good work by the AFP has seen a criminal stripped of their ill-gotten gains, and this money redirected to enhancing the safety and security of communities right around Australia,” Minister Andrews said.
“I will continue to fund projects and initiatives that make it harder for criminals to prey on Australians, by using proceeds of crime that are seized from criminals themselves.”
The investigation began after the FBI referred information to the AFP, in May 2018, about an account generator website called WickedGen.com.
AFP cybercrime investigators executed a warrant at the Sydney man’s home, where they seized cryptocurrency and various evidence.
WickedGen operated for about two years selling stolen account details for online subscription services, including Netflix, Spotify and Hulu. The account details belonged to unknowing victims in Australia and internationally, including the US.
During the investigation, the AFP further identified the Sydney offender to be the creator, administrator and primary financial beneficiary of a further three “account generator” websites: HyperGen; Autoflix; and AccountBot.
Across the four subscription services, the offender had at least 152,863 registered users and provided at least 85,925 subscriptions to illegally access legitimate streaming services.
The man received more than AUD $680,000 through PayPal, by selling subscriptions through these sites. He converted some of these proceeds into various cryptocurrencies.
An FBI indictment alleged that between February 2018 and March 2019, the Sydney man and the US man conspired to create and operate an online service called AccountBot.
It is alleged AccountBot offered a paid subscription service to customers who could obtain account credentials to streaming services at a cheaper rate.
The Sydney man, who in April 2021 was handed a two year and two months’ sentence to be served by an intensive corrections order, claimed he had obtained a financial benefit of $500,000 to $1 million from operating the websites.
AFP Assistant Commissioner Justine Gough said many criminals wrongly believed law enforcement could not take away their ill-gotten wealth if it had been converted to cryptocurrency.
“The AFP-led CACT will relentlessly go after criminally-obtained assets in whatever form they are found – whether its cash, bank accounts, homes, luxury cars or cryptocurrency,” Assistant Commissioner Gough said.
“While the CACT can target assets linked to all criminality, this operation is an excellent example of the AFP’s cybercrime investigations and asset confiscation capabilities collaborating to deliver maximum impact.
“In the 2020/21 financial year, the CACT successfully confiscated almost $54 million in assets”.
The CACT brings together the resources and expertise of the AFP, Australian Taxation Office, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre and Australian Border Force. Together, these agencies trace, restrain and ultimately confiscate criminal assets.
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