A 20-year-old US student, Joel Ortiz, who stole cryptocurrencies worth more than $5 million by hijacking the phone numbers of his victims, has pleaded guilty and has been sentenced to ten years in prison. He will be formally sentenced in March.
Ortiz used the technique of SIM swapping in order to drain millions of dollars in crypto from about 40 victims. SIM swapping involves the hacker transferring a phone number to a different SIM card, obviously, without the owner’s approval. The hacker will then call a phone carrier saying that they have lost their SIM card and get the number ported to another phone. If successful, they can take over the victim’s accounts by intercepting their two-factor authentication texts.
Emma Mohan-Satta, a fraud prevention consultant at Kaspersky Labs, said back in 2017 that a growing reliance on phone-based authentication has made SIM swapping an increasingly lucrative enterprise. There have been a handful of arrests in the past year, but Ortiz is the first person to be convicted of the crime.
Authorities Pleased With Cryptocurrency Sim Hijacker Conviction
Authorities investigating these hacks celebrated the conviction, saying they hope that it will serve as an example for the other alleged criminals who have already been arrested, as well as the ones who have yet to be caught.
Almost all these investigations originated from the Regional Enforcement Allied Computer Team or REACT, a task force of multiple local California police departments. Samy Tarazi, one of the agents involved, said: “We think justice has been served. And hopefully this is a strong message to that community”.
Deputy District Director Eric West of Santa Clara County, California said: “Each arrest that we made sent shockwaves through that community, that they weren’t safe in their basement, they weren’t safe in their room in their mom’s house, that they were being tracked down and arrested one by one”. West added that “in looking at Joel’s sentence it shows that our community will not tolerate this type of crime and we will continue to find everyone who’s responsible”.
There are more pending cases in court where defendants stole millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrencies using this method.