SIM card hijacker behind $5 million theft jailed for 10 years

Joel Ortiz, 20, was arrested in California last year

A college student who stole more than $5 million in cryptocurrency by hijacking phone SIM cards has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Joel Ortiz, 20, was arrested in California last year as he was about to fly to Europe with $250,000 in cryptocurrency, reports the Boston Globe.

According to investigators in Santa Clara County, Ortiz conned phone companies into giving him control of victims’ accounts as part of a method known as SIM swapping.

He then changed the passwords to the victims’ social media, bank accounts, and cryptocurrency wallets to withdraw cash. There were around 40 victims.

Ortiz pleaded guilty and will be formally sentenced next month.

Erin West, deputy district attorney of Santa Clara County, said she was “surprised and delighted” at the 10-year sentence.

He said: “We don’t always know how judges are going to handle cases where there’s no physical injury. This sets a bar for this kind of case.”

SIM swapping involves tricking the phone company into transferring a phone number over to a hacker’s SIM card.

Theft fears

Last month, blockchain security expert Hartej Sawhney claimed around $2.5 million worth of cryptocurrency is stolen from crypto exchanges every day.

Mr Sawhney, who was speaking on the topic of blockchain security on the CNBC crypto trader show, said exchanges need to learn how to properly hold private keys as this is still a major security barrier.

He said: “Exchanges need to learn to value security, but they are not getting regular penetration testing from cybersecurity companies.”


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