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10 years in prison for first person convicted of SIM hijacking

Prosecutors are hoping that that tough sentence will help deter other SIM hijacking crimes.

Published onFebruary 4, 2019

  • 20-year-old college student Joel Ortiz faces 10 years in prison for SIM hijacking crimes.
  • Ortiz was convicted of stealing over $5 million in cryptocurrency from several victims.
  • This will be the first jail time sentencing for a SIM hijacker, setting a harsh precedent for future convictions.

In a landmark legal win (via Motherboard), a judge will sentence 20-year-old college student Joel Ortiz to 10 years in prison for his SIM hijacking crimes. By the end of his run, Ortiz had used SIM hijacking techniques to steal over $5 million in various cryptocurrencies, mostly Bitcoin.

The jail time is part of a plea bargain with official sentencing to land on March 14, 2019. When the sentence is handed out, it will likely be the very first sentencing for a crime of this sort.

SIM hijacking is when thieves obtain a victim’s phone number in order to gain access to sensitive data, including banking apps and crypto wallets. The crime can be as simple as physically stealing a person’s smartphone or SIM card or as intricate as using social engineering to convince a customer service representative at the victim’s wireless carrier to transfer their phone number to a thief’s SIM card.

Fraudsters steal '50 years of savings' via SIM swap scam
A SIM card.

With access to a phone number, it’s then incredibly simple to access email, social media, apps, and other accounts owned by the victim.

In some cases, thieves target people who own valuable social media accounts, such as those with short or unique handles or those with a huge list of followers. The thieves then sell access to those accounts on the dark web for thousands of dollars.

Ortiz is part of a small group of SIM hijackers who have been caught. Some of the other high-profile thieves who are currently in custody awaiting trials or sentencing are Xzavyer Narvaez ($1 million in crypto stolen), Nicholas Truglia (multiple millions stolen), and Joseph Harris (over $14 million).

With Ortiz receiving 10 years in a plea bargain, a harsh message is now delivered to these thieves and others who have yet to be caught: the police are not taking this matter lightly.

Samy Tarazi, one of the agents who investigated the Ortiz case and also a member of the Regional Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT) in California, said that during 2018 the team received hundreds of SIM hijacking claims from potential victims. With the multiple arrests and upcoming conviction of Ortiz, Tarazi says claims are slowing down.

NEXT: Ugh, Android Q could give carriers more powerful ways to SIM lock phones

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