Oxford Student Jailed After Stealing $2.4 Million Through Crypto Scam

Wybo Wiersma – a 40-year-old Oxford University graduate – has been sentenced to four and a half years in prison after scamming over $2 million in crypto from unsuspecting victims.

Following his arrest in 2019, the Netherlands extradited the Dutchman back to the United Kingdom (UK) in 2021. Following a five-year investigation by the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU), he pled guilty on January 26 to the Oxford Crown Court. 

A Five-Year Investigation

As reported by the Daily Mail, Wiersma’s scam involved setting up a fake website for people to invest in IOTA – the 71st largest cryptocurrency by market cap. Though the crypto’s price plummeted after rallying in 2017, its team still has a presence in the EU surrounding R&D for future blockchain services. 

Wiersma’s scheme played out during IOTA’s time in the sun, The site prompted users to “randomly” generate an 81-character IOTA password by moving their mouse around their screen. In reality, such passwords were not randomly generated, but in fact pre-determined and accessible to Wiersma. 

As such, Wiersma was able to retrieve any IOTA stored in his customers’ accounts, and send it to his own wallets. That’s exactly what he did beginning on January 18 2018, when IOTA was near its prime at roughly $3 apiece. Per his guilty plea, he stole £2,156,000 worth of IOTA from roughly 100 victims in this manner. 

 Rob Bryant – Senior investigating officer Detective Inspector of SEROCU – said the investigation was particularly complex, and involved a web of trading accounts. Some people lost their businesses and life savings to the scam. 

“Wiersma has now admitted his involvement and will have time to reflect upon his actions in prison,” he added. “Meanwhile SEROCU will use all available legislation to ensure that as much of the money seized from his cryptocurrency wallets is returned to its rightful owners.”

Crypto’s Scam Problem

The cryptocurrency space is notorious for being plagued by hacks, scams, and massive volatility spikes. These scams come in various unique forms, which are often enabled by the privacy and irreversibility that cryptocurrencies provide. 

In October 2021, an anonymous group netted $2 million after rugging their fake SQUID game token project. The token was programmed such that buyers could not sell, sparking an up-only flywheel to a $2 billion market cap that ended with a 99.999% price crash. 

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Though that project seemed untrustworthy on its face, scams and fraud are proving to run to the very top of the industry. Top-tier crypto exchange FTX went bankrupt in November, due to what is widely suspected to be a multi-billion dollar fraud conducted by its leadership. 

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