A college student accused of stealing $5 million by hijacking the phone numbers of at least 40 victims has been sentenced to 10 years in prison, a new report said.
Joel Ortiz is the first among a number of apprehended co-called SIM swappers who use hijacked phone numbers to hack personal information of victims, such as emails, social media accounts and online Bitcoin wallets, law enforcement authorities told Motherboard. In a SIM card (an acronym for Subscriber Identification Module technology that authenticates a mobile phone subscriber) swapping ruse, the hacker convinces a service provider to port the legitimate user's SIM card to a device used by the robber.
While SIM swapping is a little-known threat, it is growing in popularity among hackers, officials warn. Authorities hope the severity of Ortiz’s plea bargain deal may discourage others from similar thefts. In the meantime, two other men were charged with computer fraud and other charges for SIM swapping in an indictment unsealed on Monday by a federal grand jury in San Francisco, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
According to the indictment, Ahmad Wagaafe Hared, of Tucson, Arizona and Matthew Gene Ditman of Las Vegas, Nevada, conspired to steal cryptocurrencies and other money and property belonging to executives of cryptocurrency-related companies and cryptocurrency investors through SIM swapping, the Justice Department said. The indictment also alleges that Hared and Ditman used other schemes beyond SIM swapping to gain access to email, electronic storage, and other accounts of victims and ultimately to their cryptocurrency accounts.
According to authorities, Hared was released on a $100,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court in Las Vegas next week. Ditman was released on bond and is slated to appear in court in Arizona later this week. If convicted, the accused face penalties ranging from two to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
As for Ortiz, authorities believe he is the first person to be convicted of a crime for SIM swapping. "We think justice has been served. And hopefully this is a strong message to that community," Samy Tarazi, one of the agents who investigated the Ortiz case, told Motherboard. Other SIM swappers arrested include Xzavyer Narvaez, who’s accused of stealing around $1 million in Bitcoin; Nicholas Truglia, who’s also accused of stealing millions in Bitcoin; and Joseph Harris, who allegedly stole more than $14 million in cryptocurrency, according to the report.
“Each arrest that we made sent shockwaves through that community,” Erin West, the Deputy District Attorney in Santa Clara County, California, told Motherboard. “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.”