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Sunday, September 27, 2020

Soccer pals’ shock as teenager is accused of huge Twitter hack

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The British teenager accused of hacking the Twitter accounts of leading politicians and celebrities from his mother’s house in Bognor Regis was once a promising young footballer.

Mason Sheppard, 19, could face up to 45 years in prison in America after prosecutors claimed that he played a key role in a plot to steal tens of thousands of pounds by hacking the accounts of Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Kim Kardashian and others.

The alleged cyber scam is a world away from the teenager’s life in West Sussex where, as a nine-year-old, he showed a flair for football with local side Avisford Youth FC.

Mason Sheppard, 19, could face up to 45 years in prison in America after prosecutors claimed that he played a key role in a plot to steal tens of thousands of pounds

Mason Sheppard, 19, could face up to 45 years in prison in America after prosecutors claimed that he played a key role in a plot to steal tens of thousands of pounds

He even played at Wembley in 2009, posing for photographs with 1966 England World Cup hero Sir Geoff Hurst as part of a national football festival. Matthew Noyce, 20, a former Avisford teammate, said: ‘Mason was just a normal, chatty kid who was into his football like the rest of us. I lost touch with him and haven’t seen him for years. Obviously we have all seen the allegations but there was nothing about Mason that drew attention to him. He seemed a totally normal, happy youngster.’

But another former teammate who did stay in touch with Sheppard, but asked not to be named, says the teenager ‘became a bit of a loner. I never thought he could be involved with anything like this but he definitely started to cut himself off a bit’.

According to neighbours, Sheppard’s mother Lorraine brought him up alone at her terraced home after his father Mark died six years ago.

After being hacked, dozens of VIPs, including US presidential candidate Joe Biden, appeared to send tweets urging their millions of followers to send them virtual Bitcoin currency on the false promise that they would be paid double in return. Sheppard and his co-conspirators are accused of pocketing £76,000 before Twitter locked down many of the accounts.

US officials claim that Sheppard, using online monikers ‘Chaewon’ and ‘ever so anxious’, sold access to Twitter accounts which had been hacked by his co-conspirators.

The National Crime Agency searched an address in Bognor Regis after the allegations emerged, but Sheppard, who has been accused of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and the intentional access of a protected computer, has not been arrested. Alleged co-conspirator Nima Fazeli, 22, from Orlando, Florida, has denied charges of aiding and abetting the hacking. Another man, Graham Ivan Clark, 17, has denied fraud.

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