The cryptocurrency ecosystem is booming, and thousands of people travel every week to the various conferences taking place across the globe. Many individuals have become noted for their connection with cryptocurrency, which also makes them a target. SIM swapping is becoming more prevalent as hackers use burner phones, guile, and a cheap SIM card to take control of a person’s phone and gain access to its contents, including cryptocurrency wallets.
The KrebsonSecurity blog recently posted a fascinating article on the increasing menace of SIM swapping and what police are doing to combat it. Krebs spoke with members of the REACT Task Force, a California-based police cybercrimes unit.
Sergeant Samy Tarazi, a supervisor with REACT, said that such crimes are increasing dramatically. He says:
It’s probably REACT’s highest priority at the moment, given that SIM swapping is actively happening to someone probably even as we speak right now. It’s also because there are a lot of victims in our immediate jurisdiction.
Tarazi went on to discuss the potential windfalls generated by such crimes, as well as the youth of the criminals. He states:
For the amounts being stolen and the number of people being successful at taking it, the numbers are probably historic. We’re talking about kids aged mainly between 19 and 22 being able to steal millions of dollars in cryptocurrencies. I mean, if someone gets robbed of $100,000 that’s a huge case, but we’re now dealing with someone who buys a 99 cent SIM card off eBay, plugs it into a cheap burner phone, makes a call and steals millions of dollars. That’s pretty remarkable.
The members of the REACT Task Force say the hackers target individuals who are known in the cryptocurrency space. This includes those who are the heads of companies, speakers at conventions, and those who openly talk about their cryptocurrency investments on social media.
This makes sense as such individuals are likely to have some hefty cryptocurrency wallets. Lieutenant John Rose says that while those who are victims of SIM swapping worry about their personal bank accounts, the reality is that the thieves usually only target their crypto. He elaborates:
Many SIM swap victims are understandably very scared at how much of their personal information has been exposed when these attacks occur. But [the attackers] are predominantly interested in targeting cryptocurrencies for the ease with which these funds can be laundered through online exchanges, and because the transactions can’t be reversed.
SIM swapping can be highly lucrative for criminals. With just a few dollars spent on a burner phone and a SIM card, they can literally steal millions in crypto. Case in point is 20-year-old Joel Ortiz, who stole roughly $5 million during his run before he was caught by REACT.
This youth movement continues with 19-year-old Xzavyer Clemente Narvaez. He stole over a million dollars and used some of his loot to buy a $200,000 McLaren luxury car before he was caught.
Probably one of the people hardest hit by SIM swapping is Michael Terpin, the co-founder of the BitAngels investment group. He had $24 million in cryptocurrency stolen from his accounts after his phone info was stolen and swapped onto another phone. He’s actually suing AT&T, his mobile phone carrier, for $224 million.
Have you ever been the victim of a SIM swapping attack? Let us know in the comments below.
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