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From ‘Call of Duty’ to cryptocurrency theft: FBI details deeds of suspected ring

A video-game image from "Call of Duty: Black Ops II," a shoot-em-up game known for its realism. | AP

A group of “Call of Duty” players — including a man from Dolton and another from Bloomington — is suspected of stealing more than $3 million in cryptocurrency in a computer-hacking scheme, according to a court filing unsealed in Chicago.

The Bloomington man told the FBI he met members of the ring online while playing “Call of Duty,” the popular online video game in which players in different places can compete in simulated warfare and communicate with each other. He said they forced him to participate, according to an application for a warrant to search the Dolton man’s home this summer.

The Bloomington man told authorities that hackers intimidated him into participating by “SWATting” him — a term for calling police with a false report that a violent crime is occurring at someone’s home, prompting a response from a SWAT team.

Members of the theft ring gave him names, phone numbers and other information to allow him to take over cell phones of their victims. He admitted helping take over the phones of more than 100 people, according to the FBI affidavit. Once the group took over a phone, they could hack into a victim’s cryptocurrency account, according to the affidavit.

On Dec. 12, 2016, Augur, a San Francisco company that created a digital currency called the Reputation Token, reported to the FBI that the firm’s employees and investors were being targeted for theft of their cryptocurrency, the FBI affidavit says. Augur is an online platform that lets people create “prediction markets” where they bet cryptocurrency, such as Reputation, on something’s most likely outcome —  anything from a sporting event to a possible political assassination.

The Chicago Sun-Times isn’t naming the suspects identified in the affidavit because they don’t appear to have been charged with any crimes.

The group is suspected of stealing at least $3.3 million in various cryptocurrency, including about $805,000 in Reputation Tokens, according to the FBI. The suspects allegedly moved stolen tokens through cryptocurrency networks, such as Ether or Bitcoin, to their own digital wallets.

On Aug. 1, FBI agents raided the Dolton man’s home and seized computers and cell phones, court records show.

According to the affidavit, the FBI interviewed the Bloomington man in March 2017.

The FBI affidavit includes transcripts of online exchanges between him and other suspected members of the ring before agents tracked him down. On Jan. 31, 2017, he had chatted with another suspect about trying to extort a victim after the group had stolen that person’s Augur investment. The other suspect typed “LOL” — laugh out loud — and wrote, “hack the planet.”

In an online interview, the Bloomington man told the Sun-Times that he considers himself a victim.

“I have done nothing but cooperate with Augur and the FBI,” he said. ” I have never once profited from anyone [by] crypto-hacking, ever.”

He disputed that he helped take over more than 100 people’s phones, saying the number was far lower.

The Dolton man whose home was searched couldn’t be reached. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco, which is believed to be overseeing the case, didn’t respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Augur couldn’t be reached, either.