clyde barrow hit for the first time at the age of 16. He borrowed a used car from a dealership outside of Dallas and “forgot” to return it. Alphonse “Al” Capone participated in a Brooklyn store robbery at age 19, his first crime, which secured him the meager amount of just over $10. early offenders? maybe, but he waits until you read this. At just 15 years old, Ellis Pinsky, a teenager of Russian descent who grew up in a middle-class home in Irvington, New York, stole the equivalent of $24 million in cryptocurrency. It wasn’t her first cybercrime, but it was her biggest and most profitable.
He did it on the afternoon of January 7, 2018. It was a bloodless coup, a treacherous and youthfully audacious crime. the technological equivalent of tunneling through a vault and into a maximum-security safe. pinsky thinks it was easy and a lot of fun. but adds that he wishes he hadn’t because it has made life hell for him and his family.
Reading: Parents teens victim who in bitcoin
Two years after his crime, in May 2020, the young New Yorker nearly died. In the early hours of the morning, four intruders broke into the house that he shared with his mother, stepfather and three younger brothers. They wore balaclavas and thick coats and wielded brass knuckles, butcher knives and a fake 9mm pistol. his presence was caught on security cameras and a broken window set off the burglar alarm.
pinsky had taken precautions. For months, he had assumed something like this would happen, so he bought a shotgun on the black market. With the help of his mother, he confronted the two assailants who remained upstairs. As they fled, he cornered the two who had gone up to the basement and called the police.
pinsky tells the story as if it were a tarantino movie, but also acknowledges that he knew he was risking his life. although he had done target practice, when the time came, he discovered that he lacked the skill and cool-headedness to handle a shotgun. Luckily, the intruders turned out not to be true professionals. The two thieves who were arrested were Dominic Pineda and Shon Morgan, 21-year-old petty thieves recently arrived from Virginia. Pinsky thinks he knows who sent them, although he is careful not to say so, and he has no doubt what they were after: the remaining loot, money that he by then, he says, he no longer had.
the diary of a thief
alex morris, the editor of rolling stone magazine, was the first to get an in-depth interview with ellis pinsky, the cyber thief who has been dubbed baby al capone by the new york press. The interview was published on July 8 and attests to how much more sophisticated and unusual cybercrime has become in recent years.
morris says it took him several weeks to gain pinsky’s trust. He describes Ellis as “a child just turned into a young adult whose anguish eats away at him.” the reporter and the early offender had several encounters on the terrace of the university campus where he attends school. Finally, Pinsky agreed to tell him “the whole truth” on the condition that the journalist did not omit any important details in his article: “I want the world to know my version of the story, and it is not simple. you have to tell it well.”
pinsky’s story is that of a perfectly normal boy. he is the son of immigrants from the former soviet union. The family lived in New York City until they moved to Irvington, a quiet suburban town on the Hudson River, when Ellis was 11 years old. In his new suburban residence, the chubby and somewhat shy but by no means socially awkward boy took to online video games like counter strike and call of duty . he then began hanging out with a young community of would-be hackers who hang out in “gaming” settings. veteran hackers who had noticed his progress began to share what they knew with him in exchange for him performing modest and not always legal tasks for them. pinsky performed acts of what is called “social engineering”, that is, it extracted passwords or professional credentials from workers of social networks or key computer services to access other people’s computers. it is a crude and effective espionage technique. For example: someone brags in an online chat that he works as a trainee programmer at twitter or microsoft and can access a number of user accounts or mobile phones; You show interest, you gain his trust, and you get him to tell you what he can really do or how it’s done.
pinsky proved to be a natural at this task, but he was interested in “true knowledge and true power”. At 15, this brilliant self-taught man believed he was “able to hack any account and any device.” he had taken “social engineering” to a new level, creating a network of collaborators and accomplices whom he paid small amounts to help him in his increasingly complex misdeeds. “why do we climb mountains?” asked British mountaineer George Mallory. “because they are there”. pinsky was hacking other people’s devices for very similar reasons: simply because he could.
the perfect heist?
then baby al capone entered the big leagues of cybercrime. one day a guy named harry contacted ellis to tell him that someone he knew from the ogusers online community, which is very popular with hackers, had offered to sell access to users’ passwords for a service he buys and sell cryptocurrencies.
Harry and Ellis identified a potential victim from the customer database: Michael Terpin, a businessman in his 60s who was on the brink of becoming a billionaire. With the help of an anonymous tipster, they gained control of Terpin’s sim card. as soon as they began to explore, they saw that they had landed a whale. they could even check your crypto asset portfolio balances; doing so confirmed that the billionaire had $900 million in ethereum cryptocurrencies (terpin denies that claim), but they were unable to access the money.
Looking for access to less secure asset portfolios, they found a company called counterparty where terpin had over three million triggers, an emerging cryptocurrency that pinsky had never heard of. they thought the triggers would be worth only a few thousand dollars, but simply looking at the price of the virtual currency showed that they were actually worth $24 million.
after hacking terpin’s twelve word password, they took control of his wallet. At that point, Pinsky made the rookie mistake that would later allow Terpin to track him down: he transferred some of the cryptocurrency to his own account to make sure it was real money.
As soon as Pinsky confirmed that his balance reflected the new deposit, he and Harry mobilized their network of accomplices. they began making dozens of transactions to help them launder money by exchanging it for bitcoins and transferring it through different servers before depositing it into a new account. Pinsky says that several million dollars were lost in this transaction. Because Terpin had amassed ten percent of all triggers in existence, selling so many of them at once caused the price of the coin to plummet in real time; Pinsky’s accomplices had kept their end of the bargain. except for a certain @erupts, who received a transfer of a million dollars and decided to keep it.
patek philippe and louis vuitton
After splitting the loot with Harry, Ellis ended up with several million dollars in the checking account his parents had set up for him to start saving for college. he went to bed early because he had gym class the next day. what followed is an even more unlikely and twisted story. It took several weeks for Pinsky to realize that he had just become the richest teenager in New York State and that the FBI could walk through his front door at any moment.
He did not know that he had stolen a fortune, only that he had played a childish joke, the real dimensions of which he did not fully appreciate. Pinsky says he barely touched the money, but acknowledges that he bought a $50,000 Patek Philippe watch, which he paid for in bitcoin, and spent another $900 on flights from Chicago to New York for his entire family.
somagnews journalist daniel kucher has compiled evidence that ellis was not as discreet as he claims, that the teenager indulged in nouveau riche whims like driving around irvington behind the wheel of an audi r8. his schoolmates also say that he started wearing louis vuitton clothes; he traveled to miami and las vegas using jetsmarter, a private plane rental service; and once ended an argument at a school football game by telling his rival, “I could buy and sell you and your whole family. I have $100 million.”
the fact is that there is no material evidence of any of this. Perhaps the only sure sign that Ellis lived the high life during the final years of his life as a minor is a photo on social media of him surrounded by three blonde models with whom he shares a huge bottle of champagne. it’s a sad photo pinsky has the expression of a scared child. he holds the bottle as if it were a dangerous animal while the young women smile and stick their tongues out at the camera.
but even that photo has an unexpected subtext. pinsky says @erupts—in real life, nick truglia, the 20-year-old hacker who stole a million dollars from her—invited ellis to a private party at a nyc club, hired the models, and paid for it champagne. According to his account, Ellis went to the meeting with a friend, convinced that he was headed to the lion’s den and expected Truglia to break his legs. But it turned out that Truglia just wanted to get to know him a little better, tell him that he was a legend, and talk “business.” pinsky also says that he returned to irvington at dawn in an uber feeling like the protagonist of a delusional farce movie, a kind of juvenile version of the wolf of wall street
too old to die young
Finally, Terpin filed a lawsuit in 2020 against the teenager who had stolen from him two years earlier. Ellis found himself a good lawyer, pleaded guilty to embezzlement, and, as a show of good faith, returned 562 bitcoins, the Patek watch, and just under $100,000 in cash, which he had been keeping in a piggy bank under his bed. the authorities were easy on him. after all, at the time of the events he was only 15 years old and a cybercriminal is not an armed robber.
His mother has supported him unconditionally throughout the ordeal. Pinsky assures that he never suspected anything, that he has always been oblivious to the shady dealings of his little Al Capone (despite the Audi R8, the rental of private jets and the Louis Vuitton shirts). Narrating his conversations with Pinsky, Morris makes it clear that he believes the boy has become a pathological liar, is hiding too sordid a story, and has much to lose if he tells the whole truth. Pinsky is currently studying computer science and economics at a university near his mother’s house; In 2021, he spent a semester studying abroad in Florence. Morris has no doubt that Pinsky will do very well in life. ellis is talented and motivated. furthermore, her past is not an obstacle in the interconnected fields where she intends to make a living, technology and business; she actually she is quite the opposite.
morris sees pinsky consumed by the premature melancholy of someone who has been through too much in too little time. Walking down to the basement that night in May, clutching the shotgun with which he planned to protect his family from a gang of hired thieves, Pinsky believed he was about to die before he was 18. Cryptocurrencies, and their unbridled volatility and savage, they have not only brought us a generation of newfangled speculators, but also criminals as unlikely as ellis pinsky.