A sim card hijacking ring led by Joel Ortiz, a 20-year-old from Boston, has allegedly stolen a total of USD 5 million of cryptocurrency from over 40 victims. They used a technique known as sim swapping, which is when a hacker tricks a mobile phone carrier into giving the hacker control of someone’s sim card. This is the first known case of sim swapping involving Bitcoin.
Once the hackers gains control of the sim card, they have full access to the phone, allowing them to steal passwords and break into emails. Much of the cryptocurrency stolen was from breaking into emails, which he used to get into wallets and exchange accounts. 2-FA is the strongest protection for a cryptocurrency wallet, but sim swapping completely compromises 2-FA. Victims reported that their phones went blank once broken into, so they had no idea what was going on. The hacker also sent texts to victim’s family members to extort the victims into sending even more cryptocurrency.
Ortiz targeted wealthy cryptocurrency traders and investors, and it seems he actually went to the Consensus conference in New York to find his marks. Three hacks for millions of dollars of Bitcoin occurred during the conference. USD 1 million of the money stolen was funds from an initial coin offering.
Police managed to track down Ortiz by sending a search warrant to AT&T for a victim’s phone number, which revealed that the victim’s phone number was being used on two phones that Ortiz controlled. Police then sent a search warrant to Google for the information from those two phones, and found searches about sim swapping, a picture of Ortiz’s ID, and other information about his phishing schemes.
Ortiz is currently in jail with a USD 1 million bond. He is facing 13 charges of identity theft, 13 charges of hacking, and 2 charges of grand theft. Police have only been able to seize USD 250,000 from Joel Ortiz so far.
Legally, the mobile carriers may be at fault and liable for damages, since ultimately they are the ones who handed over control of customer’s phones to the hackers.
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