The worlds of cryptocurrency, which promises anonymity and privacy, and identity theft through SIM hijacking collided in a curious case of theft recently. The Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against nine individuals last week for stealing cryptocurrencies worth approximately $2.4 million through identity theft. The individuals, who called themselves “The Community”, conducted seven attacks against the victim’s phones, eventually taking over control, and used them to gain access to their cryptocurrency exchange accounts.
Ages for members of the group ranged from 19 to 28 and they were spread across the country, with one member resident in Ireland. “Mobile phones today are not only a means of communication but also a means of identification,” stated United States attorney Matthew Schneider. “This case should serve as a reminder to all of us to protect our personal and financial information from those who seek to steal it.”
What is Sim Hijacking?
SIM hijacking has increasingly become an effective tactic for hackers to gain control of an individual’s identity and his or her financial information. Their modus operandi consists of transferring the phone number to a new SIM card through a request to the mobile provider during which they impersonated the victim.
Typical personal information required during such requests – the last four digits of a social security number or date or birth – is available to them through various marketplaces on the web or cursory google searches. In the current case, the group had two AT&T contractors and a former Verizon employee as members to help them gain access to the information. Subsequently, they used this information to control victims’ phone numbers and reset their passwords and request two-factor authentication codes to bypass security measures.
The case, which spanned two continents and involved multiple industries, means that crime watchdogs will need to have expertise at their disposal to tackle the growing complexity. “Increasingly, criminal groups are turning exclusively to web-based schemes to further their illicit activities, which is why the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has developed capabilities to meet these threats head on,” said acting special agency in charge Angie Salazar.