Hacking scheme from Selma couple hits firewall
FRESNO – A former navy couple was found guilty of conspiracy for attempting to turn a profit on the dark web through a hack job on a private database.
The information that was stolen contained personally identifiable information (PII), which the couple in question, Marquis Hooper and Natasha Chalk, sold on the dark web for $160,000 in digital currency. According to an announcement from U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert, the couple is scheduled to receive their sentence on July 24 from U.S. District Judge Jennifer Thurston.
In addition to the illegal obtaining and selling of private information, Hooper, 32, also pleaded guilty to inobvious wire fraud and charges of aggravated identity theft. He faces two separate maximum statutory penalties of 20 years in prison and $250,000 fines for both the conspiracy and wire fraud conviction, along with two years in prison for the identity theft conviction. Chalk, 39, is facing a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a single fine of $250,000.
However, the actual sentences will be determined at the discretion of the court after the consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the federal sentencing guidelines. The guidelines take a number of variables into account, like the nature and circumstances of the offense, among other things.
According to court records, the hacking conspiracy took place while Hooper was a chief petty officer and Chalk was a reservist in the navy. Hooper opened an account with a private company maintaining a database with PII for millions of people. The company has restricted access to the database and only allows businesses and government agencies that have a demonstrated, lawful need for the PII to access the information.
Starting in August 2018, Hooper opened an online account with the company, falsely representing that the navy needed him to perform background checks on sailors. After his account was opened, Hooper then added Chalk. The couple used Hooper’s access to the company’s database to obtain the PII of over 9,000 people and sold it on the dark web for $160,000 in digital currency.
Some of the buyers of the stolen information from Hooper and Chalk used it to commit further crimes. An example of this is one individual used the PII to create a driver’s license with a victim’s information, and then tried to withdraw money from the victim’s bank account with it. However, the bank declined the transaction.
Four months later, in December 2018, Hooper’s account was closed for suspected fraud. Hooper and Chalk enlisted an unindicted co-conspirator to regain access to the database. The co-conspirator attempted to open an account under Hooper’s direction and with the promise of $2,500 for each month that the account was opened. Hooper created a fake contract that identified an identity theft victim as a navy supply officer who was authorizing the transaction, and when the company asked for verification of identity, Hooper provided a fake driver’s license for the victim and a fake letter from a commanding officer approving the transaction. Ultimately, the company decided against opening the account.
This case was investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security Investigations. The assistant U.S. attorney Joseph Barton is the prosecutor for the case.