Dad sold dodgy fire sticks on Facebook and bragged 'don't go with amateurs'

A dad made a small fortune flogging dodgy fire sticks online to fund his gambling addiction.

Kevin O’Donnell, of Altcross Road, Croxteth, sold modified fire sticks for the illegal streaming of subscription-based content between September 2020 and March 2023. He was caught after FACT, the federation against copyright theft, received intelligence about the sale of devices providing unauthorised access to premium sport, TV shows and movies belonging to Sky and BT.

On May 3 2022, the organisation began investigating a Facebook profile for “Kev O’James”, which advertised the sale of subscription packages for up to £85 on Amazon fire sticks, or remotely on smart devices. The page read: “Don’t go with amateurs who have been selling for a few months. Come with us, we have been selling for many years”.

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The Facebook account was linked to O’Donnell’s personal account, and both accounts were found to be operated by the same person.

FACT officers then instigated a test purchase from the O’James account, paying £40 to a PayPal address for a 12 month subscription package. An investigation of purchase confirmed the illegal streaming service allowed customers to access Sky and BT content.

In the six months between February and August 2022, FACT found 574 transactions had been made to the PayPal account, adding up to £136,000. A further inspection in July 2023 found both Facebook accounts were still operating and still promoting the sale of the dodgy fire sticks.

O'Donnell, 41, was arrested on July 4, and admitted "sole responsibility for the offences". He appeared at Liverpool Crown Court today, June 4, where he pleaded guilty to supplying articles for the use of fraud, and providing a service designed to circumvent technological measures.

Prosecutor Kevin Liston said: “Quantification of the loss is difficult and is based on average. Sky estimate that, based on your average subscription cost in the period that the offences were taking place, the loss could have ranged as high as £371,000. BT, using a similar approach, estimate the losses could have been as high as £471,000. Significant losses were potentially caused by the venture.”

Kyra Badman, defending, said: “Right from the outset the defendant accepted his involvement. His involvement is not quite as sophisticated as it might seem. He was purchasing fire sticks for £40 and making a little profit on top of that, and that’s how the enterprise started.

“It’s clearly accepted that he was motivated by financial gain, not in respect of any lavish lifestyle, but driven by his addictions at the time: alcohol, but primarily a significant gambling addiction. These addictions were driven by an emotional response to what was happening in his life at the time.

“His father passed away in September 2022 having suffered with cancer for two years. The defendant was extremely close with his father, he worked with him every day of his life for 20 years, and the loss of his father had a significant effect on him. That meant he was more reliant on measures he felt helped him, alcohol and the escape of gambling.”

She added O’Donnell was the main breadwinner for his disabled five-year-old son.

The judge, Miss Recorder Michelle Brown, said: "This was offending that took place over a sustained period of time, three years. Your offending involved large sums of money, not only in terms of your potential gain, but in terms of the potential loss caused to the companies involved."

She accepted O'Donnell had not understood the seriousness of his crimes, his personal mitigation, and a probation report which placed him at low risk of reoffending in future. She sentenced him to a total of two years in prison, suspended for two years.

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