College Student Steals Millions in SIM Card Bitcoin Hijacking Scheme
Investigators have arrested and charged a 20-year-old college student of being part of a gang that hacked cellphone numbers before stealing over $5 million in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
Tech news website Motherboard reported, citing court documents obtained by it, that Joel Ortiz, a 20-year-old college student from Boston, has been accused of hijacking more than 40 phone numbers with the help of some accomplices.
Ortiz and a group of associates specifically targeted people involved in crypto and blockchain. The group allegedly targeted multiple individuals during the high-profile Consensus conference in New York City in May 2018.
The hacking technique involves tricking a cell phone provider such as AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile. To pull off the scheme, Ortiz and his crew had to impersonate their targets. They allegedly contacted the victims’ cell phone providers to request new SIM cards, convincing them that you have lost your SIM card.
Once they have confirmed your identity, they will transfer the number to another SIM card (which you already own).
The hunt for the criminal gang started when one unnamed victim reported to the police that his cell phone number had been stolen. The victim was targeted by Ortiz severally earlier this year with the college student managing to hijack his cellphone number twice.
With the help of telecommunications giant AT&T, the investigators were able to obtain the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers of the phones the SIM hijacker had been using.
Roughly $250,000 has been seized so far. Coinbase, Bittrex, and Binance are cooperating with investigators to trace Ortiz’s footsteps. Apparently, he traded roughly $1 million in crypto on the exchanges.
California authorities arrested Ortiz at Los Angeles International Airport on his way to Europe on July 12, Joel Ortiz was apparently quick to come clean. He told investigators that he and his “co-conspirators” controlled millions of dollars in cryptocurrency. Charges have been filed against him, including 13 counts of identity theft, 13 counts of hacking and two counts of grand theft.
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