Last year, Joel Ortiz was arrested in California for his supposed involvement in a SIM swap scam that saw more than $5 million in cryptocurrency stolen from the wallets of unsuspecting victims. Now, that thief reportedly is the first to be sentenced for SIM hijacking, after appearing before a judge in The Golden State.
According to a report by Engadget, Ortiz, a 20-year-old college student, has pleaded guilty to being involved in a theft ring that compromised around 40 phone numbers to gain access to crypto funds. He made a deal with prosecutors in the case and is expected to serve as many as ten years behind bars.
SIM swap scams have been on the rise over the past couple of years. The con is led after someone gains access to personal data, such as the phone number, name and email address, of an individual. With this information in hand, the criminal contacts the phone carrier as the individual to report a stolen phone. The carrier then reissues the same phone number to a different SIM card, which is controlled by the thief, giving the con artist access to all types of data previously in the hands of the intended user.
With that access, the thief begins to dig around and determine what apps were on the previous phone. Finding the apps, anything from crypto wallet addresses to banking accounts can be compromised. Even connected crypto exchange accounts can see their funds drained in no time.
Some service providers have also come under fire for not doing enough to protect customers. Last year, angel investor Michael Terpin launched a lawsuit against AT&T after he allegedly lost around $24 million from his crypto accounts due to SIM swap activity. Terpin, who is the founder of BitAngels, argued that AT&T’s lax security controls were to blame for hackers being able to easily steal his phone number and gain access to the accounts.
Ortiz is set to be officially sentenced on March 14. It still remains to be seen if this case will serve as a deterrent to future crimes of a similar nature remains to be seen. SIM swap thefts were on the rise last year, but an agent involved in the Ortiz case, Samy Tarazi, said in conversation with Motherboard magazine that the number of SIM swap thefts being reported has begun to slow down.
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