Oxford Ph.D. student jailed in £2M crypto theft scam
by Tom Nyarunda
A former Oxford University student has admitted crypto theft charges after stealing more than £2 million in cryptocurrency.
Wybo Wiersma, a 40-year-old computer genius who dropped out of a Ph.D. class at Oxford University, will serve four and a half years in jail after admitting he stole more than £2.1 million in cryptocurrency in a scam that affected over 100 people. The Dutchman created a bogus website – iotaseed.io – that would generate an 81-character 'seed' password for people interested in an online currency called Iota.
Inserted a malicious code
A ‘seed’ refers to a private key consisting of 81 random characters that allow only the user to access their crypto wallet. However, Wiersma inserted a malicious code so that instead of random seeds, the system delivered predetermined ones that enabled him to access his victims' Iota crypto and unlawfully transfer them to his web of personal trading accounts. Wiersma programmed the site to appear on top of Google searches when victims searched for the phrase 'Iota seed generator'.
Prosecutor Julian Christopher KC revealed that the accused created the scam iotaseed.io website between 2017 and 2018 and started transferring his victims’ cryptocurrency in early 2018. He would later set up four accounts with Bitfinex cryptocurrency exchange, where he would keep the stolen crypto funds. Bitfinex would become suspicious of the account’s activities and froze them, despite Wiersma working hard to convince them otherwise.
Crypto theft due to greed and deception
Judge Michael Gledhill KC of Oxford Crown Court sent Wiersma to jail, noting that he abused his skills to steal, terming it dishonesty at the highest level and adding that he committed the offense of crypto theft due to greed and deception. The accused was due to stand trial in early March but pleaded guilty on the day the jury was supposed to be sworn in. Wiersma was first arrested in January 2019 but fled to his native Netherlands after being released on bail. He was extradited to England in April 2021 to face the law at Oxford Crown Court.
Noting that the investigation covering the crypto theft was complex as it involved more than 100 victims from different parts of the world, Detective Inspector Rob Bryant of the South East Regional Organized Crime Unit (SEROCU) stated that as Wiersma cools his heels in jail, SEROCU would try and ensure as much of the money they seized from his wallets is returned to the owners.
Tom is a freelance writer with over 15-years’ experience in content creation, blog writing, and SEO specializing in the blockchain and cryptocurrency niche. He is a philosophical figurehead who believes that to make our world a better place, we must invest in incorruptible products and procedures, of which Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are leading examples.