Joel Ortiz, a 21 year-old from Boston, has been sentenced to ten years in prison for stealing cryptocurrency through hacking. He stole over $7 million from 40 victims and previously pleaded no contest to ten felony theft charges in January. He received his decade long sentence on April 19.
Ortiz wasn’t shy about how he used the money. He dropped thousands at Los Angeles nightclubs. He flew himself and a group of friends to a music festival in a hired helicopter. Ortiz was also a big fan of the designer brand Gucci, purchasing expensive Gucci clothing and luggage.
Ortiz was arrested last year by the Regional Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT). REACT is a task force designed to tackle sophisticated cybercrime, and has been focusing on large-scale cryptocurrency crime as of late. One of the reasons that the task force caught Ortiz was because he slipped up and used his Google e-mail address in one of his hacker phones.
Ortiz was using a SIM-swapping tactic to steal cryptocurrency, where hackers often pretend to be their victims when contacting telecom companies, and claim that their SIM card has been lost. This allows hackers to bypass normal authentication measures and gain access to accounts with large amounts of cryptocurrency. In one instance, Ortiz was able to steal over $5 million in cryptocurrency from a Cupertino-based entrepreneur.
REACT investigators were able to recover $400,000 in funds from Ortiz, and it is unclear whether the rest of the money was spent or hidden.
The deputy district attorney of Santa Clara County, Erin West, made it clear that the money stolen was not abstract simply because it was cryptocurrency. She said, “These are crooks who use a computer instead of a gun. They are not just stealing some ethereal, experimental currency. They are stealing college funds, home mortgages, people’s financial lives.”
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