A few weeks ago California police arrested a 20 year old college student for stealing over $5 million worth of cryptocurrencies. Joel Ortiz, the student in question, allegedly stole the cryptocurrency from 40 victims by hacking their cellphone numbers. Ortiz targeted people attending the highly publicized cryptocurrency conference “Consensus” in New York City that takes place every year in May. One entrepreneur attending the conference was hacked for $1.5 million!

The technique he used, “SIM card hijacking”, has become common for hackers looking to prey on cryptocurrency enthusiasts making it more important than ever to decouple cryptocurrency trading accounts from phone numbers.  “SIM card hijacking” consists of contacting a mobile service provider and convincing the customer support into transferring the victim’s phone number to a new SIM card controlled by the hacker. In many cases, even Two-factor authentication isn’t enough to stop the attacks from occurring as hackers can bypass that as well.

Joel Ortiz was arrested at LAX airport on his way out of the country. He is currently facing 28 charges including 13 counts of identity theft,13 counts of hacking and 2 counts of grand theft. After his arrest, Ortiz admitted to having access to millions of dollars in cryptocurrency. Investigators believe Ortiz also intended to hijack victim’s twitter and email accounts with the intention of selling them back to the victim’s for a ransom.

Police were able to zero in on Ortiz after investigating one case where Ortiz focused on one victim in particular over the course of a few months. The hacker initially hijacked his phone number, then email and social media accounts and even went so far as to harass his daughter. The cybercrime unit of the California police department caught up with the hacker by analyzing the call records for the hacked phone, linking it with two android devices and then figuring out which email accounts linked to those devices.

Stay safe out there!

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