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A massive remote-work scam fooled 300 US companies into hiring North Koreans, prosecutors say

Joshua Zitser   

A massive remote-work scam fooled 300 US companies into hiring North Koreans, prosecutors say
  • An Arizona woman is accused of aiding North Koreans in securing US remote-work jobs.
  • They gained employment at Fortune 500 companies, including a TV network and a Silicon Valley firm.

An Arizona woman has been accused of aiding North Koreans in securing remote-work jobs in the US and funneling their wages back to North Korea, which is subject to US sanctions, according to federal prosecutors.

The US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia announced in a press release on Thursday that Christina Marie Chapman, 49, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with nine counts, including conspiracy to defraud the US.

According to prosecutors, the scheme began sometime in 2020 and used the stolen identities of about 60 US citizens.

They said it impacted more than 300 companies and generated more than $6.8 million in revenue, which was sent back to North Korea.

In the charging document, prosecutors allege that Chapman facilitated overseas IT workers posing as Americans using the stolen or borrowed identities of US citizens.

Chapman was first approached in March 2020 by an unknown individual asking her if she wanted to be the "US face" of their company, according to a recently unsealed indictment against Chapman and three North Korean citizens.

According to prosecutors, the scheme saw overseas workers apply for remote jobs at well-known US companies, including Fortune 500 companies.

These included a major television network, a leading Silicon Valley tech company, an aerospace manufacturer, and an American carmaker, the indictment said.

According to the indictment, the workers used IP addresses to make it appear that they were operating from Chapman's house and within the US.

Prosecutors said that Chapman received and forged payroll checks and that the wages of the foreign workers were paid into her bank account.

They added that much of the income, though to be at least $6.8 million, was falsely reported to the IRS and Social Security Administration under the names of US citizens whose identities were stolen or borrowed.

In exchange, prosecutors said in the indictment that Chapman charged the workers monthly fees for her services.

An attorney for Chapman was not listed in court documents.

In a separate criminal complaint, unsealed on Thursday, a Ukrainian man, Oleksandr Didenko, was also accused of operating "laptop farms."

In the press release, Nicole M. Argentieri, head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, said that these charges should serve as a "wake-up call" for American companies employing remote IT workers.

In 2016, the US passed the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act, which aimed to improve the enforcement of sanctions against North Korea.

It cut North Korea from the US financial system, which led to various schemes to try to circumvent it.

The assistant director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division, Kevin Vorndran, said in the press release that although the allegations may seem like "typical white-collar" crime, they represent a broader trend.

He described it as a "new high-tech campaign to evade US sanctions, victimize US businesses, and steal US identities."

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