Hackers are very skilled individuals that can single-handedly take over systems and accounts, stealing passwords, money, and other valuable resources in their quest to become rich and powerful. And given cryptocurrencies’ boom in popularity, they have been the latest preferred target of cybercriminals all over the world.

Such is the case of a 21-year old American student, who had been performing SIM-swapping hacks for quite some time now and had stolen more than $7.5 million worth of cryptocurrencies with that modus operandi. Now, according to an announcement of the Santa Clara County’s District Attorney’s Office that came on Monday, April 22nd, the man has been sentenced to spend a decade in jail for his acts.

The District Attorney’s Office published that the criminal, named Joel Ortiz, had managed to violate the privacy of smartphones of no less than 40 people. The office refers to Ortiz as a “prolific” SIM swapper, and reported that one specific crime resulted in over $5.2 million taken from the phone of a crypto entrepreneur in Cupertino, California, and it was performed within “minutes.”

A Wild Lifestyle

The man certainly enjoyed the money he stole. His lifestyle was wild: he spent thousands of dollars at Los Angeles clubs, and he even hired a helicopter to arrive to a music festival. He used to buy expensive clothes and luggage, as well, as per the announcement.

The hacker was arrested in LA, specifically at the Los Angeles International Airport, in 2018. He pleaded no contest, which means he accepted the charges but without plead guilty, to ten felony theft charges in 2019.

Ortiz holds the not-so-flattering achievement of being among the first people in the United States of America to be arrested and convicted of robbing people of crypto assets by using the SIM card swapping method.

According to Judge Lee, “these are not Robin Hoods. 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.”

The Regional Enforcement Allied Computer Team (abbreviated as REACT) Task Force investigated the matter. The organization seized $400,000 from the man in question after he was taken into custody. According to the Attorney’s Office, the rest of the money has been either concealed or spent by now.

SIM Swapping: What is it?

The industry refers to SIM swapping as the activity in which the criminal clones the victim’s SIM cards with the intention of accessing online accounts. For several reasons, it is one of the most common methods used to steal crypto assets.

A similar case took place in Ohio earlier in the year, when a similarly-aged man (20 years old) was charged in a New York Supreme Court indictment for identity theft. He also stole crypto holdings from more than 50 people in America by using the same SIM swapping approach.

Near the end of last year, Silver Miller (an American law firm) filed claims against two prominent telecom companies on behalf of people that reported SIM swap attacks. One of the victims claims to have lost more than $620.000 in crypto with the practice. “By leaving holes in their security protocols and failing to properly train and monitor their employees, cellphone providers have assisted thieves in remotely taking over the SIM cards in people’s smartphones, accessing financial records and account information of the victims, and emptying the victim’s accounts of cryptocurrency and other valuable assets,” according to the law firm.

By Andres Chavez


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