Crypto is no stranger to hacks and scams, in fact, as people adopt more security measures, hackers are getting more sophisticated. What makes crypto attractive to such hackers is their anonymity and untraceability. Criminals can get a handsome payday without fear of prosecution. A new type of scam is on the rise – SIM swapping. Recently, two instances of SIM swapping were prosecuted in the United States by the local government. The ease of porting a SIM along with the general lack of awareness is said to be the main culprits.
The process of SIM swapping usually involves gaining access to somebody’s cellular traffic. Swapping is simple enough that most people with the right knowledge can do it. Unlike other hacking methods like installing malware or cloning a device, SIM swapping is relatively simple. It usually involves a few phone calls. The vulnerability scammers use the fact that cellular companies have made it easy for customers to port their networks. This involves a few phone calls where the companies try to check the identity of the caller. In reality, basic information about someone is all it takes to swap a SIM. Once this is done scammers can easily gain access to almost all accounts bypassing two-factor authentication. There is really little one can do against such attacks, and this is what worries the authorities the most.
In the biggest SIM swapping case yet, 20-year-old Joel Ortiz stole 5 million in crypto assets. SIM swapping is gaining traction among scammers given the relative ease at which it can be executed. The accused, Joel Ortiz, has pleaded guilty, said Erin West, the Deputy District Attorney of Santa Clara County, California. The plea will see Ortiz spend 10 years in jail and plead guilty for theft. Ortiz’s scheme was elaborate and in the end, he was able to scam 40 people. The story was first reported in Motherboard a division of news outlet VICE on February 1st and has since been picked by other outlets. The sentencing will happen on March 14. Authorities reportedly state that Ortiz is the first individual convicted of a crime for SIM swapping. Samy Tarazi, an agent who investigated Ortiz was quoted “We think justice has been served. And hopefully, this is a strong message to that community”.
On February 1st Manhattan district attorney did a press statement. It was about the indictment of a 20-year-old Dawson Bakies on charges related to SIM swapping. The accused Bakies has been charged with identity theft, grand larceny, computer tampering and scheme to defraud totaling 52 counts. The defendant is alleged to have stolen identities of victims using SIM swapping and after the gaining access to their account, including crypto exchange accounts funds were transferred from such accounts in the tune of 10,000$. In one instance the accused tried to extort the victim by demanding a ransom to restore access to the account. In total 18 Manhattan residents were affected by this scheme. Thankfully only 3 people lost their money. According to Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr., this represents the first such indictment on a case related to SIM swapping in New York. The DA hopes this sends a strong message that such crimes will not go unpunished.
As members of the crypto community, it is delightful that such acts are brought to justice and criminals are prosecuted, a complete change from a few years back when there was no way to resolve such issues. This is a necessary step as the industry matures. For wider adoption adequate protection from law enforcement is expected, but what many worry if it will be a pandora’s box and for the sake of safety, whether the whole industry is brought under the scrutiny of the government.
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