US State Department dangles $5M for information on North Korean scheme

The US is now offering rewards of up to $5 million for information that could help stop Pyongyang’s scheme of getting North Koreans remote IT jobs at American companies.

The State Department announced the reward just as federal prosecutors charged an Arizona woman, Christina Chapman, for allegedly assisting North Koreans in finding American jobs as remote software and application developers from October 2020 to October 2023.

State’s Rewards for Justice (RFJ) program, which is administered by the Diplomatic Security Service, is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information that leads to the disruption of financial mechanisms of persons engaged in certain activities that support the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the press release says.

Specific information is sought about North Korean IT workers using aliases Jiho Han, Chunji Jin, and Haoran Xu and their manager, Zhonghua.

All these individuals allegedly engaged in a scheme that enabled them to obtain illicit telework employment with US companies using false identities actually belonging to more than 60 real American citizens.

“If you have information on Han, Jin, Xu, Zhonghua, their associates, or their activities, send it to us via our Tor-based tip line. You may be eligible for a reward and relocation,” said the State Department, presumably addressing possible sources inside North Korea.

According to the State Department, the scheme generated at least $6.8 million for North Korea, and Chapman helped North Koreans obtain work with companies in a range of sectors and industries. They also attempted but failed to gain similar employment at two US government agencies.

All four North Koreans also allegedly have ties with the country’s Munitions Industry Department, which oversees the development of ballistic missiles and weapons production.

“As alleged in the indictment, Chapman and her co-conspirators committed fraud and stole the identities of American citizens to enable individuals based overseas to pose as domestic, remote IT workers,” said principal deputy assistant attorney general Nicole Argentieri, head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

“The charges in this case should be a wakeup call for American companies and government agencies that employ remote IT workers. These crimes benefited the North Korean government, giving it a revenue stream and, in some instances, proprietary information stolen by the co-conspirators.”

As Cybernews reported last year, IT workers from North Korea have for years secretly worked at American companies and sent millions of dollars to the regime back home. They used stolen identity cards and Social Security numbers and even paid US workers to do video job interviews and conference calls for them.

In the spring of 2022, the FBI issued an advisory stating that North Korea dispatched highly skilled IT workers around the world to generate revenue for the government. In 2023, the FBI seized 17 websites used by these workers to disguise their identities and get hired by US companies.