California Resident Pleads Guilty for His Role in Sim Swap Scam Targeting at Least 40 People, Including New Orleans Resident

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

NEW ORLEANS –  U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans announced that RICHARD YUAN LI, age 21, a resident of Hercules, California, pleaded guilty on May 17, 2022 before United States District Judge Greg G. Guidry to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1349 and 1343, for his role in a SIM Swap scam that targeted at least forty people, including a New Orleans-area physician (Victim A).

According to court documents, a SIM Swap scam is a cellular phone account takeover fraud that results in the routing of a victim’s incoming calls and text messages to a different phone. Once a perpetrator is able to swap the SIM card, it is likely he is able to obtain access to a victim’s various personal accounts, including email accounts, bank accounts, and cryptocurrency accounts, as well as any other accounts that use two-factor authentication.

LI participated in a scheme that involved multiple parts.  First, in January 2018, they defrauded Apple, Inc. into providing a second Apple iPhone without paying for it by convincing an Apple customer service representative that they had not received an Apple iPhone 8 they ordered (hereinafter “the Apple iPhone 8”).  LI took possession of the Apple iPhone 8.  LI and his co-conspirators then arranged for victims’ telephone numbers to be swapped to SIM cards contained in cellular phones in their possession, including the Apple iPhone 8.  Between July 2018 and December 2018, LI participated in unauthorized SIM Swaps with his co-conspirators that targeted at least forty phone numbers.

Specifically, on November 10, 2018, Victim A’s telephone number was swapped to the Apple iPhone 8, which LI kept in his dorm room at a university in California.  The SIM swap caused the transmission of a series of writings, signs, signals, and sounds that traveled in interstate commerce, including between the States of Florida, Louisiana, and California.  Thereafter, LI and his co-conspirators gained access to Victim A’s email accounts and cryptocurrency accounts.  Thereafter, one or more members of the conspiracy called Victim A and threatened to release contents of his email account unless Victim A paid a 100 Bitcoin ransom.  Ultimately, they were able to steal approximately $57,117.50 worth of cryptocurrency before Victim A was able to regain control of his accounts.  LI’s participation in a SIM Swap of another individual on December 4, 2018, caused that victim to lose approximately $4,000.  In total, between July 19, 2018, and December 6, 2018, LI participated in unauthorized SIM Swaps with his co-conspirators that targeted at least forty victims.

LI faces a maximum term of twenty (20) years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000.00, up to three (3) years of supervised release after imprisonment, and a mandatory $100 special assessment fee per count.  He may also be ordered to pay restitution to the victims for their losses.  Sentencing before Judge Guidry has been scheduled for August 9, 2022.

U.S. Attorney Evans praised the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Assistant United States Attorney Jordan Ginsberg, the Public Corruption Unit Chief, is in charge of the prosecution.