A 20-year-old college student is set to spend ten years behind bars for stealing cryptocurrencies worth more than $5 million. The 20-year-old pleaded guilty to charges levied against him and accepted a 10-year sentence as part of the plea deal. According to an announcement by the prosecuting attorney, the judge in charge of the case deemed the plea deal reasonable.
20-year-old Joel Ortiz from Boston reportedly used SIM swapping to steal cryptocurrencies from his victims. According to reports from his arrest, Ortiz would contact service provider companies and dupe them into allowing him to swap his victim’s SIM cards. After swapping the SIM cards, Ortiz would then change the passwords of the victim’s social media and financial accounts. After gaining control of cryptocurrency wallets, Ortiz would transfer the funds into his wallets.
Court records show that the police began investigations against Ortiz after a cryptocurrency investor reported to the police that his SIM card had been swapped by a hacker twice in February and March 2018. After swapping the SIM card, the hacker, who the police identified as Ortiz, changed the investor’s email and cryptocurrency accounts’ passwords and added 2-factor authentication to ensure the investor was completely denied access to the accounts. After swapping the SIM card, Ortiz stole bitcoin worth $10,000 from the investor and used the phone number to contact the investor’s wife, daughter, and friends and asked them to lend him bitcoin. He allegedly told the investor’s daughter through text messages to tell her father to give him bitcoin.
The police contacted the investor’s service provider, AT&T, and acquired call records for the period the SIM card had been swapped. From the records, the police were able to obtain the IMEI number of the phones that Ortiz had been using the SIM card with. The IMEI numbers showed that the SIM cards were used on two Samsung phones that did not belong to the investor.
After acquiring the IMEI numbers, the police served Google with a search warrant that allowed them access to data tied to the phones used by the hacker. As the police went through the data, they found three email addresses. In one of the accounts, the police found an email that had a selfie of Ortiz holding his identity card and an email that had information about SIM swapping.
Next, the police contacted cryptocurrency exchanges that Ortiz had been using, including Coinbase, Binance, and Bittrex. Information acquired from the exchanges disclosed that Ortiz had passed cryptocurrencies worth over $1 million through the exchanges. This discovery prompted the police to look for other victims of Ortiz. They contacted AT&T who gave them phone numbers that had been used on Ortiz’s phones from November 2017 to June 2018. In total, the police discovered that Ortiz had used more than 40 phone numbers with his devices. The police then contacted the owners of the phone numbers who disclosed that they had fallen victim to SIM swapping.
Having acquired enough incriminating evidence, the police initiated the search for Ortiz after obtaining an arrest warrant against him. The police managed to arrest Ortiz in July just as he was about to board a plane to Europe in the Los Angeles International Airport. At the time of his arrest, Ortiz had cryptocurrencies worth $250,000. Police disclosed that before his failed trip to Europe, Ortiz had spent well over $150,000 on partying and shopping. The police did not recover any other cryptocurrencies from Ortiz besides the $250,000 seized during his arrest.
When announcing Ortiz’s sentence, Deputy District Attorney for Santa Clara County, California, Erin West said that she was both ‘delighted’ and ‘surprised’ by the judge’s decision to accept the 10-year sentence plea deal. She said Ortiz’s sentence sets a good precedence for the prosecution of similar cases since Ortiz is the first cybercriminal to be convicted as a result of SIM swapping. West added that Ortiz’s sentence is a clear indication that her office is dedicated to ensuring that all those who commit such crimes will have to pay in the end. Speaking during the announcement, Attorney David Silver, representing the victims, said that the sentence pointed the fight against SIM swapping in the right direction.
Ortiz’s official sentencing will be held on the 14th of March.