Written byPatrick Howell O'Neill
A Pennsylvania-based day trader who broke into victims’ online securities brokerage accounts and placed unauthorized trades was indicted Wednesday on hacking and fraud charges.
Between Sept. 2014 and May 2017, Joseph Willner, 42, is accused of being part of a larger conspiracy that stole money from victims’ accounts in order to fund authorized trades. Willner and co-conspirators allegedly hacked into victims’ accounts and bought publicly-traded stock from Willner at artificially high prices.
“After using the victims’ accounts to purchase the stock, Willner and his co-conspirators then re-purchased the stock from the victims’ accounts at market or below-market prices,” a Department of Justice release said. “This series of fraudulent trades usually took place within minutes, and Willner immediately profited based on the difference between his artificially high short sale price, and the lower price at which he subsequently re-purchased the stock.”
Federal prosecutors say the scheme earned over $700,000 in profit and resulted in over $2 million lost by brokerage firms.
The other conspirator alleged to have taken part in the scheme goes unnamed and is listed as a “foreign national” in the indictment against Willner.
Willner and his partner allegedly imitated victims by using geographically similar IP addresses.
Prosecutors say Willner paid a percentage of the profit to his co-conspirator in Bitcoin via Coinbase, the United States’ largest bitcoin exchange. The pair began talking on Twitter direct messages before moving to IRC chat rooms.
You can read the full indictment below: