Episode 09: Scammer Steals $120 Million From Facebook And Google (2016)
1:53PM Jan 18, 2023
Welcome to Just curious media. This is that's a crime. I'm Jason Connell.
And I'm Sal Rodriguez.
All right, so we are back for our ninth episode of that's a crime.
I feel like we should make a speech or something.
Let's wait till 10
Okay, I'm gonna have something ready. Jason, I'm gonna have a speech ready for cat number two?
Well, fair enough. I cannot wait. But Sal, today, we are breaking down the True Crime Story of the scammer steals $120 million from Facebook and Google in 2016?
Oh, yeah, this is a very interesting case. Because at the end of it, I want you and I to discuss whether or not it was all worth it, because this is one of those things where, at the end, once you hear the whole story, you're thinking, would I have done that considering the consequence? Would I do that? Is it worth it? I want us to talk about that.
Okay, we can definitely save that for the end. And of course, I put 2016 Because that was the year that legal action was put into motion. Because anytime we cover a crime, so I like to pad the year and to give it some context, but this one took course over a few years. And then of course, charges started. So that's the year I put it's kind of hard to pinpoint most crimes happen then in their sound. I just put that year on it. But this is one of those things. And because this crime actually ran from 2013 to 2015.
Yeah, he dedicated two years of his life to perfecting his master plan.
Yeah. So according to the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York Between 2013 and 2015, super scammer evolved us, Remus ascus used phishing emails to pull off this massive cash scam against two of the biggest tech giants in the world, taking them for just over $120 million. Nice. Now sow why don't you explain the term phishing scam to us?
Well, Jason, I know a little bit about this a tiny bit, because I used to work for a small newspaper. And I wasn't accounts receivable, but I would get lots of emails come through my desk, we would get these invoices, these companies would just send us these invoices. And I would take them I'd go to the bookkeeper, I would say, Who are these people? And she'll say, I don't know who those are. So we would just get these mysterious invoices
from just curious media.
From just curious media, Mr. Jason Connell. And sometimes they would have your name on them like, hey, Sal, like they act like they're Powell and your buddy. Yeah. And sometimes they're written so casually, like, hey, here you go. Like, they make it seem so genuine. But you know, my antenna always goes up. So I caught a few of these, I was a great filter for those types of emails. So just like the term implies fishing, but in this instance, in the tech world, spelled with pH, normally spelled F phishing, like, all they're doing is throwing these hooks out there throwing these digital hooks out, and eventually somebody bites.
So the ones you were getting, how much were these invoices for?
So they were usually just in the few $100 range? Because I think that they assumed anything above about 1000 would set off some red flags, right? So usually just a few $100 here or a few $100 there. But I saw several of these. And I would probably say it was safe to say we got at least one a week.
Yeah, that's really interesting. So and I get these things all the time, too. And it's like, to me, my antenna is also always up. But this super scammer, he had a system cell. And I love that he didn't even just target small operations. And maybe he has previously but he went after Google and Facebook, which they're known for their security, right? So talk about a black guy in the space.
Yeah, that's kind of funny. But at the same time, you could imagine, he assumed that these companies are just so big, and just paying so many invoices all the time in the range of billions of dollars, right? annually. So he assumed he would get lost in the shuffle. And I guess he did, he did. He finally got caught. He totally got away with it.
So essentially Remus ascus was creating lookalike domains and email accounts for Quanta Computer, Inc. And that's a Taiwan based manufacturer of notebook computers and other electronic hardware now, so I looked it up completely legit operation. I don't know if you've heard of quantum before or not. No, actually, I haven't. Okay. I thought you had a quantum on your desk there.
I keep thinking of quantum Quantum of Solace. Isn't that James Bond?
It is James Vaughn. Yes. So I haven't seen any images yet. But I'm assuming that these people couldn't tell the difference between the actual quanta website or emails. Even if they were side by side with the fake one cell,
I can see that it takes a very sharp eye. Let me tell you something when I worked for that small paper, as I worked there in the editorial department, editing, proofing, writing, there were scams just all the time, we would just get all these fake letters down to fake letters, fake news stories, people would send us Fake News. news articles. There's always some sort of scam. And I'm telling you, anybody online now I guess anybody listening would know by now, you got to look out, you got to be where you got to keep that antenna on, because there's always somebody trying to rip you off.
It's so true. And I even just last week, so while I was doing something, I got a text message from my bank, apparently air quotes on my bank, and it looked totally legit, you know, Hey, your accounts paused or frozen because of some transaction. And I thought, well, I guess I recently purchased some things. Click the button. It was like my login screen sale. Like it looks legit. But I thought, well, I've never received this before. And this fashion, actually called the bank and they said, it's not from us. So I'm like, Oh my gosh, that radar went off. Thank goodness. But if I had logged in with my info, well, they've captured my login. Oh, yeah. Who knows what happens?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, one time at my old job, the owner of the place a little elderly now, especially if you're elderly, I say especially all of us can be victims of online scams. But especially if you're elderly. So my boss asked for my help. I go into the office. He's about to enter his credit card information. And I said, What are you doing? He said, Yeah, I need your help entry. My credit card. I look at the screen. It says, you have one Netflix for one year, just enter your credit card. And I said, No, no, no, no, that is a scam. Like he didn't understand he thought he won a raffle or something. But I had to prevent it from entering his credit card for some fake Netflix scam.
Oh my goodness. Wow. Needless to say, it's bound to happen to him sooner or later, I'm afraid.
Well, we're gonna be there one day, the only advantage is that we've had a longer life start. Yeah, yeah, we've been online longer. But by the time you and I are 80 and 90, we will have been online, you know, most of our lives. Yeah,
thank goodness. So basically Remus AUSkey creates these fake accounts that were used to contact employees at both Facebook and Google and supply them with phony invoices that each of the tech giants thought were real purchases. Now, the reason for this is because both companies were regularly conducting multimillion dollar transactions with the real quanta.
Yeah, so this goes a little step further. He wasn't just sending out these fake invoices, right? He was creating a fake web presence. A bogus web presence of this
with one of their vendors. Yeah, yeah. Very interesting. So he did his research. So he knew this is a company that they're familiar with, they work with. And obviously south, he's gonna go after these guys. He must have tested this elsewhere before at least it's my theory. Yeah, this is working. I'm going bigger. That's not in the article. But I'm sure or miss ascus is not just a rookie in this space.
So who knows how much more success he had before he targeted Google and Facebook. Wow, interesting. Yeah, he could have had a history of doing this.
So then Remus ascus would direct his victims. I like that word victims to make wire payments into overseas accounts he controlled and Latvia and Cyprus. So I'm not sure how this didn't raise any red flags.
I think some bookkeeper at least got fired. I mean, you know, nobody within the company probably served any time on this mistake, but a mistake nonetheless a big mistake. Surely some bookkeepers some sort of Accounts Payable person is out of work at this time,
was not a one off this one on for two years, this was a constant thing wasn't like you've made that one payment. No, you made that payment to this vendor, every week or every other week or every month, whatever it was. But Remus ascus quickly wired the money that was paid to him into different bank accounts in various locations throughout the world. And there's more, he would then have forged contracts and letters that falsely appeared to have been executed and signed by executives from Facebook and Google.
Yeah, he's a very special type of criminal here. He really
is he's thought this whole cycle through so yeah, definitely a thinker. The forged documents and false corporate stamps were submitted to avoid suspicion from banks due to the large volume of funds being transferred. I don't know. So this is no rookie. Again. I'd like to know more of where he learned how to do this, and where he perfected this incredible art of scamming.
Yeah, we don't know much about the guy's history as far as his upbringing, his education, but I think he's currently in his early 50s, I think at this time, so you can kind of guess where he was at certain moments in time as it relates to the web. As it relates to digital crimes. You can kind of guess this guy's had at least a good 2025 years of being able to learn how to do all this properly. Yeah, maybe
he's a website designer. Yeah, probably works for GoDaddy, I bet. Totally Moonlighting, too. When some phishing scams, but unfortunately so or fortunately, however you look at it all great scams like this, come to an end. And eventually quanta went over things with Facebook and Google. But I am shocked that it took two years to come to light.
Well, that also implies he could have maybe lived it up for a year and then quit.
Yeah, and you're big on that. Like, yeah, when the getting's good, right.
I'm big on getting out while the getting's good. The problem is, it's almost in the realm of that don't get high off your own supply type thing. Yeah, you don't want to get greedy. You want to get your fortune and get out these people that hang out. Look what happens to them. He could have cut his losses a year earlier, might be free today.
Yeah. So now I couldn't find out any information in regards to how they actually caught or miss ascus. That's unfortunate, but I'm assuming there was a digital paper trail that led back to him since there was a US indictment in 2016. So he definitely covered his tracks as well. But it was more like a smokescreen, like, well, they won't find out right away, but eventually, it's gonna come to pass. Like, we didn't send you any supplies where he talked about we paid all this money, eventually, someone's gonna say, Hey, where's all that stuff? So I think he knew that because obviously, it couldn't have gone on forever.
Well, because you had his fake quanta invoices? Yep. And then along the way or later, you have the legitimate quanta, invoices, right. So that accounts receivable person at quanta would have to one day phone or email, Facebook and Google say, Hey, we've been sending you a bunch of invoices, and you haven't paid up. And then obviously, then the accounts payable person at Google and Facebook goes, Wait a second. And that's when it started getting figured out what imagine that I guess that's when they went to the authorities.
I bet quanta was paid for any and all invoices. I'm assuming that goods were missing from Google and Facebook like hey, oh, where's that stuff that we've been paying for? Okay, but however, went down. It was inevitable. This came to pass.
Yeah, I think what you're saying makes more sense that they were paying all the quantum quantum fake and real. I just thought they were just paying the fake and not paying the real.
I mean, we don't really know but US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement, Remus ascus thought he could hide behind a computer screen halfway across the world while he conducted his fraudulent scheme. But as he has learned, the arms of American justice are long, and he now faces significant time and a US prison.
Well, we're gonna get into that significant trip. Hold that what implies significant
in March 2017 Lithuanian authorities arrested and extradited him to the US a month later. Now, as part of his guilty plea, Remus ascus, agreed to forfeit roughly $49.7 million that he obtained from the scheme and was sentenced in December 2019 to five years in prison at the age of 50. Sal, five years of prison seems like a slap on the wrist.
And if you're given a five year term, you're probably going to be out in two or three. Yeah, well,
in addition to the prison term, US District Judge George B. Daniels ordered him to serve two years of supervised release and to pay restitution for another nearly $26.5 million. But I read somewhere else that he was facing 30 year. So is it the fact that he gave up nearly $50 million and came clean, and maybe he's working for them? It's like, catch me if he can, maybe he went to work for them to catch other scammers. But that's a significant drop 30 years to five plus two years supervised release. I don't know.
I'd love to know how authorities are able to access and seize the assets of someone who is sentenced. So when it says that Reema soska, has agreed to forfeit? The greed really can't they just take so that implies that he has some sort of control over that. So instead of them demanding all the money back, they said, give us some of it back? And he said, Okay, so it was almost a negotiation.
He had it hidden in different accounts across the world, probably under, you know, lock and key. So yeah, who knows what he was really holding? I mean, was it Bitcoin, but he forfeited X amount, he got a plea deal that significantly took it down from 30 years to five years. But yeah, you're right. It was a negotiation. And then he has to come up with another 26.5. Does he already have that? Was he hanging on to all this money? And if not, Sal, are they just like, Alright, Miss ascus go earn some money to go scam somebody else? And then here's that 26.5 I owed you. Like, I don't understand.
Yeah, cuz it doesn't say if he had like a day job like what was his official occupation? Super scammer? Well, okay, so Jason, here's what I was talking about earlier. When you put all this together. You and I are listeners Everybody think about this, when you put this all together two years of work to scam 120 million to require you to spend five years in prison from the age of 50 to 55. You have to give back. I'm rounding the numbers up to make sure you have to give back 50 million, and then they tack on 25 million. So you scam 120 million to give back 75 million? spent two years or life doing that and then spend five years in prison. Would you be willing to do that? Serve that time pay that money back and restitution for $45 million? No. Oh, wow. Really? Nice. Jason.
million dollars to live life.
Don't ask me if I would do it. Okay,
fair enough. We know the answer.
That's $45 million. You're right at the age of retirement. I think it would be upsell
I just made 60 Bitcoin and I'm so an attorney for Remus ask is probably really helped. in some regard. Paul de Petrus Jr. said his plan was to ask for a punishment at sentencing that fits the crime he committed, which calls for leniency. So I guess, Petros Jr. was saying that the press release and everything that had come out about his client was overblown. And the fact that you know, he cooperated and gave money back, they really leaned into the leniency. And obviously it worked. I mean, that was a big, significant drop. And again, there probably is some validity to the fact that, hey, this guy can help us maybe learn how the scammers work or work on our side. You never know they're probably not going to mention this. But I keep going back to that wonderful Steven Spielberg film with Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken. But when he is defrauding and writing checks all over the country, and they're chasing him when they finally catch him, he goes to work for them because he's the best. So yeah, why not offer him a soska is a job.
Yeah, it's the old let me show you how to prevent this from happening again.
Yeah. And then you could like live a little bit easier without the long arm of American justice. Coming to get him out of Lithuania.
You know what, Jason? This is not that far fetched. I'm absolutely certain that I've read in the past about criminals who hacked into computers a fortune 500 companies. And then they said, hire me and I'll show you how I did
it. Totally the movie Snickers that was the plot for that movie as well. Oh, my God, that's crazy. Yeah, even in one of my favorite shows Ozark if you watch the show, the birds Jason Bateman is ahead of the family, Laura Linney. And the feds are offering him a deal because he's so good at laundering money. And they know it, but they can't catch him. And they're like, hey, you know, the mobs wanting to get you or the cartels coming for you. Come work for us. We'll protect you. And you can help us catch other money launderers. So case in point, I think there might have been some of that going on. But hey, or miss ascus. Good for you. You put fear in all tech companies, specifically Facebook and Google, because you went into their high security fortresses and made them look very vulnerable, and they were paying you multimillion dollars. And so how many others are trying sell? I mean, it's probably endless. Now, radars probably even more up for these types of things. They probably handle invoicing a bit different now, I would assume.
Well, especially interesting, Jason, is that it's not like he did anything high tech. No. All he did was send an invoice and ask for money. He didn't hack into their computers.
He did not he went into the front door.
Exactly. Yep. He went in there with his palm out and open. That's what he did.
Yeah. Hey, I'm just here to collect on that stuff we sent Yeah. So as for Facebook and Google, they both gave short statements to CNBC about the matter. A Facebook spokesperson stated Facebook recovered the bulk of the funds shortly after the incident, and has been cooperating with law enforcement in its investigation, while a Google spokesperson commented, We detected this fraud and promptly alerted the authorities. We recoup the funds, and we're pleased this matter is resolved. Both of these companies want this over and done with sound.
I like how the Google spokesperson said we detected this fraud and promptly alerted the authorities. Well, it took you two years to fix it. I wouldn't call them
promptly. And I doubt they got all the money. No way. Did Google get paid back and Facebook only got half their money. So whatever, you know, they're going to put a spin on it. And I don't want to talk about it. They want it over and done with because you know, this is their integrity. Again, they weren't hacked, but they were vulnerable to a scam. And that can have an impact on the stock. I didn't go back and look at this time when this was announced if the stock dropped or or what happened but it's not good for business. Not for a tech giant No,
no breach of security, especially something like this, but no breach of security is good press.
No. So Sal, I know that you said in a previous episode that fraudster has always seemed to be a step ahead. And even in this story Remus ascus, came up with this great plan executed it flawlessly. Maybe did it a little bit too long. Sure, yes, probably could have bowed out early, but he eventually was caught. However, there's probably new styles, new methods now. And the fraudsters are probably starting to penetrate either big tech or small tech or even just the your to Lucan times, whoever, they're still coming. And they seem to always be a step ahead of us.
If you're going to try to pull something like this off, the main thing is to get away. So obviously, he was caught with his digital trail. So he was successful at the crime. But then his getaway was a problem, because that's where they caught up with him. If there were a way for him to have completely severed that digital trail and make a clean digital getaway, then he would have gotten away with this. And he'd be the modern DB Cooper, which we talked about in the first episode of That's right. But he would be the modern DB Cooper. A no one gets hurt. And I walked away with millions of dollars.
Yeah, I don't know how he could have done it either. Because maybe he's using a certain computer and eventually it was gonna come back to him. I doubt that was the plan, like average, so I'm gonna get caught. So I'm gonna enjoy this. I don't know, what was the defining moment. Maybe he got sloppy and they got his IP or, I don't know, because this guy seemed to know intricately how to do this. So he probably had a plan to avoid getting caught, but for whatever reason, maybe he didn't too long. Maybe that was part of it. But we'll never know. Well, at least we don't know. Now. Maybe rim is ask us we'll come out and write a book. Or have some interviews. Who knows
what Jason You know, one thing is for certain Remus houseguests, we'll spend possibly five years in prison right and come out of there with potentially 45 million remaining somewhere. And why possible?
Absolutely. Absolutely. So yeah, that's a fun episode. I just saw the headlines. I thought oh my god a scammer that can pull this off on Facebook and Google that's worth diving into and coming off last week's episode Sal about the illegal Bitcoin mine raided 2021 and just kind of wanted to stay in this kind of digital crime space for another episode. It was just a lot of fun to talk about.
Digital Crimes are interesting, and we will definitely see more of them. Oh, yeah, months and years to come.
Absolutely. And again, please go back. Check out the other eight episodes. Of course Sal had mentioned the DB Cooper that was our initial episode we covered the Baylor Bears basketball murder 2003 Dana Plato video store robbery 9091 A classic sell very good episode about one of our fallen heroes. Oh, yeah. Recipes. Dana. Coin thief pockets $2.4 million 9094. That one's still blows me away. That Salim Cara could still coin by coin over 13 years and come up with $2.4 million.
That's right. I believe a man can change.
And then when a sales personal favorites, the movie theater manager sells blow 2021
That shows where I'm at. That's my favorite one. Yeah,
it's his favorite. Which is a great episode. By the way, it is exactly as advertised. Movie theater manager in Minnesota was caught selling blow and hit it in popcorn bags, but to no avail. And then Robert Chambers are probably killer. We went old school classic case of 1986. And we had the rake Ruth pregnant girlfriend murder plot 1999, that very touching episode and some timeliness to it as well. But we'll leave that alone. It's in the episode for you to enjoy. And yeah, so that's it. So we are one away from 10. And hey, I'm just glad we're at the doorstep of that Sally didn't know what it was going to be like launching a new show. But I couldn't be more excited for that to crime.
I think it's a good time. I think it's a celebratory time. I'm happy with our podcasts. It's been well received. Thank you for all the people that have listened that has given us a ratings and reviews. Thank you very much for helping us launch this new show. You know, after the success of Let's Talk Cobra Kai, we jumped into this and I was reluctant at first but you know what, full steam ahead. I'm very happy with what we've done and proud of what we've done. Thank you, Jason.
Thank you so so thank you so much for listening. And please be sure to subscribe to that's a crime wherever you get your podcast. You can also really help us by giving the show a five star rating on Apple podcast.
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