Man Sues Parents of British Boys (Benedict and Oliver) Over $1 Million Bitcoin Heist

Man Sues Parents of British Boys (Benedict and Oliver) Over $1 Million Bitcoin Heist
Photo: Martin Bureau, Getty Images

Back in 2018, a Colorado man had roughly $US1 ($1.5) million worth of bitcoin plundered from his digital wallet. After three years of working with investigators, he says he’s traced the crime back to two Brits named Benedict and Oliver (really) — and now, their parents are being taken to court right alongside the accused chaps.

As Krebs on Security first reported, the victim, Andrew Schober had filed suit against the families of Benedict Thompson and Oliver Read, who were minors at the time of the theft but are currently studying computer science at universities in the UK, as something of a last resort. According to court documents filed in U.S. federal court in Colorado, Schober only found the two alleged culprits after spending months working with experts in the world of crypto-transaction tracking. By the time Schober was able to track them down, he’d spent about $US10,000 ($13,799) on various sleuths, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit says that those investigators were able to track down the million-dollar heist to a pretty basic cybersecurity snafu. Investigators allegedly found that, when Schober downloaded a certain crypto-wallet application called “Electrum Atom,” it came bundled with a sneaky program designed to snoop on his computer’s clipboard. When Schober tried to transfer 16.4 bitcoins (now worth roughly $US767,000 ($1,058,383)) by copying and pasting his digital wallet’s address, the malware swapped that long string of numbers and letters into one that the teen’s controlled, the suit claims.

“Here, Mr. Schober believed he was communicating only with his own cryptocurrency wallet,” the lawsuit reads. “But because of the Malware, either Benedict or Oliver or both intercepted and altered the communications between Mr. Schober and the Bitcoin blockchain.”

To be fair, the suit that Schober filed can be considered something of a last resort. Before moving on to a civil suit, the Krebs report shows, he’d actually reached out to the teen’s parents directly to plead for his assets back.

“It seems your son has been using malware to steal money from people online,” the letter to the parents reads. “We have all the evidence necessary to implicate his guilt […] ask him yourselves. He might have thought he was playing a harmless joke, but it has had serious consequences for my life.”

A screenshot of the letter Schober sent the two families.  (Screenshot: Shoshana Wodinsky (Gizmodo)) A screenshot of the letter Schober sent the two families. (Screenshot: Shoshana Wodinsky (Gizmodo))

According to the lawsuit, this letter was met with radio silence — so Schober moved on to file a civil case this past May. And this month, he finally got a response from one of the parents, Hazel Wells. She filed a motion on Aug. 9 asking to represent herself and her son, helpfully including a screenshot of the letter that was sent to each of the parents.

Notably, neither of the families are denying that their kids pilfered about $US1 ($1.5) million worth of bitcoin from an unsuspecting man several countries away. Instead, their argument is that the statute of limitation has already passed; because Schober waited three years and change to file suit against the families, they said, “his claims should be dismissed.”

It’s unclear whether that’s going to be enough for the U.S. court to throw out the case. Over the past year, we’ve seen a record number of major crypto hacks met with some less-than-satisfying litigation. Last September, a California judge threw out a claim of $US200 ($276) million damages from one investor who was hit by a SIM-swapping hack that cost him millions in crypto assets.

And it’s not like these hacks have slowed down since then; even this week, multiple reports emerged that Coinbase users were having their savings drained from the platform in the wake of some pretty widespread hacks. Meanwhile, Coinbase’s customer support has reportedly been… less than helpful. Perhaps Schober will have better luck.