SIM Swapping Hacker Sentenced to 10 Years for Stealing $5 Million in Cryptocurrency

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Joel Ortiz, a SIM swapping hacker who stole $5 million in cryptocurrency, has accepted a plea deal where he will serve 10 years in prison for his crimes.

The technological revolution that we’re all living in has a lot of positive features. We can instantly communicate with other people all across the world, the smart phones we carry in our pockets are far more powerful computers that those that were the size of rooms 50 years ago, and Bitcoin and other virtual currencies allow for greater economic freedom. But there is a downside as technology enables criminals a myriad of ways to ply their illicit trade. Fortunately, justice does catch up with some of them, and one notorious hacker just accepted a plea deal for 10 years of prison time.

The Rising Menace of SIM Swapping

ICO scams, ransomware, sextortion, and even outright physical assaults are some ways that criminals use to get their grubby mitts on other people’s cryptocurrency. Another method, SIM swapping, is now becoming increasingly popular.

SIM swapping is becoming more popular with criminals.

SIM swapping is when a hacker uses different means, such as stealing data, to gain details about a person’s smart phone account. They then use this information to convince the phone’s provider to transfer the phone number to the hacker’s SIM card. Thus, they gain full control over the victim’s account. This allows them to gain circumvent security protocols, such as intercepting one-time passwords sent out via SMS, in order to gain access to the victim’s cryptocurrency wallets.

Joel Ortiz is one such hacker that used SIM swapping to steal $5 million in cryptocurrency, including $10,000 in crypto from a tech executive attending a blockchain/crypto conference in California. The 20-year-old Boston native even went on a spending spree before being caught as he tried to flee the country.

The Law Catching Up

A number of police jurisdictions are stepping up their game when it comes to dealing with these technologically-savvy criminals. A number of police agencies in California have pooled their resources to create the Regional Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT), which eventually tracked down Ortiz.

Joel Ortiz

The 10-year plea deal was met with a great deal of enthusiasm by the law enforcement community that deals with high tech crime. The deputy district attorney for Santa Clara County, Erin West, said:

We don’t always know how judges are going to handle cases where there’s no physical injury…This sets a bar for this kind of case.

West says SIM swapping is a nationwide epidemic. Her office is currently prosecuting four other SIM swappers, but she says that every arrest is a good thing as it puts the hacker community on notice. She notes:

Each arrest that we made sent shockwaves through that community. 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.

The prison sentence for Joel Ortiz is a big deal as he is the first SIM swapper to get jail time. Ortiz was one of the biggest such hackers at $5 million, but the SIM swapping crown still belongs to Joseph Harris. Arrested last October, Harris is presumed to have stolen $14 million in cryptocurrency from his victims.

What do you think about this SIM swapping hacker getting 10 years in jail? Let us know in the comments below.

Images courtesy of the Boston Globe, Adobe Stock, and Pixabay.


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