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Press Release

California Resident Sentenced to 3 Years of Probation and Ordered to Pay Restitution After Pleading Guilty for Role in SIM Swap Scam Targeting at Least 40 People, Including New Orleans Resident

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS –  U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans announced that RICHARD YUAN LI, age 21, a resident of Hercules, California, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Greg G. Guidry to three years of probation and 100 hours of community service for his role in a SIM Swap scam that targeted at least forty people, including a New Orleans-area physician (Victim A).  Additionally, Judge Guidry sentenced LI to pay restitution in the amount of $61,117,50 and pay a mandatory $100 special assessment fee.

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.

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.  In about March 2019, LI sold his Apple iPhone 8 to a friend, E.W; law enforcement authorities executed a search warrant on LI’s dorm room in the San Diego, California area on about June 14, 2019.

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

Updated August 10, 2022