Cybercrimes: fun and games for criminals, devastating for victims

For most people, video games provide a much needed escape from reality but a few gamers are taking a much darker approach: Cybercrimes. Pat Taney reports.

By Pat Taney

A 17-year-old in Hamilton managed to steal $45M worth of cryptocurrency from a middle-aged billionaire in Los Angeles and if the suspect’s age is shocking to you, it wasn’t to investigators.

When it come to cybercrimes, many times it’s a young person’s game, according to investigators and many are lured in via the video gaming world.

For most hardcore video gamers, life online is a much-needed escape.

“For the majority of us, it’s just to have fun and share that joy with others,” said Fūnk-é Joseph, a freelance journalist who writes stories about the video game world for a number of publications.

But for a small group of others? There’s a darker side.

“Criminal activity in the gaming community, I think, is mostly surrounding around hacking,” Joseph said. “People hack into accounts, not just for money, they hack into it for the fun of it as well almost like that is a game too.”

Joseph said gaming can teach the skills needed to pull off those things.

“I think most gamers are very tech savvy. You don’t need any sort of institutional training or education to do this kind of thing.”

RELATED: Veracity: The Bitcoin Kid

Ryk Edelstein, technology CEO with 5-L Technologies based in Montreal, agrees.

His company provides data privacy and security solutions to a select client base of investigators, government, law enforcement, security practitioners and professionals.

“The gaming culture is built on adrenaline,” He said. “Some of these kids will get involved in crime because they’ll see it as just an extension of the gaming environment.”

There are crimes that occur only within the gaming communities, including hacking or stealing accounts and player usernames. In rare cases, the crimes extend outside to real life.

In 2020, a 17-year-old hardcore gamer in Hamilton, Ontario was able to pull off a major online heist. He stole $45M worth of cryptocurrency from a Los Angeles-based billionaire in a SIM swap attack.

A crime that shocks even those who know this world well.

“I know the story but you have to ask, how did this teenager get so much money out of a billionaire? $45 million is game show money to me,” Joseph said.

The crime, as soon as it occurred, even surprised seasoned investigators.

“Forty-five million dollars is one of the biggest crypto thefts I’ve seen from an individual,” said Detective Samy Tarazi with the Santa Clara County Prosecutor’s Office in California.

He spent much of his career solving cyber crimes like SIM swapping, where criminals gain control of someone else’s cell phone.

“Most of our hackers in the SIM swapping world that I’ve talked to have started out gaming at an early age.” Tarazi said. “We definitely see where it goes from this like online anonymous world to real life crime.”

In the upcoming documentary “The Bitcoin Kid’, VeraCity takes a look at how the $45 million heist happened, the game king teen who pulled it off, and another gamer he took along for the ride.

A young man who is telling his story publicly for the first time.

“People would think that I was friends with a millionaire who stole a bunch of money, so I got the best time of my life,” Sean Carr, friend of the teen who committed this crime, said. “But it just turned out to be the worst thing that ever happened. Like it went from being good to being bad.”

Carr also talks about his experience in the video gaming world and why he believes gaming helped lead this teen into the world of the crime.

“It can suck you in,” Said Carr, who himself has landed into trouble for online crimes as well, though he wasn’t charged in the $45 million heist.

“These kids are very tech savvy and very, very smart,” Tarazi said. “And it’s sad to see such talent wasted to crime.”

“VeraCity: The Bitcoin Kid” airs Sunday, Jan. 29 at 10 p.m. EST, only on Citytv.

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