Joel Ortiz, a 20-year-old college student, was recently arrested after reportedly stealing more than $5 million in Bitcoin (BTC). Ortiz and a few unnamed others allegedly hacked over 40 phone numbers belonging to crypto traders and investors, as per court papers shared by Motherboard’s website.
Based on reports, the college student used a simple SIM-swapping method that exploited the security system of the victim’s phone carrier by replacing their phone number with a SIM accessible to the criminals. Ortiz then used the hacked phone numbers to obtain access to the users’ two-factor authentication (2FA) codes.
Consensus Blockchain Conference
The student was then able to log into the victim’s crypto accounts, change their passwords, and steal their digital currency. Authorities believe this incident is linked to the popular Consensus Conference that was held in New York in May, during which over $1.5 million in cryptocurrency was reportedly stolen from a blockchain professional.
The court papers also noted that Ortiz had been involved in a number of other attacks reported in February and March 2018. One of the victims is believed to have been targeted multiple times when Ortiz changed their passwords and locked the user out of their accounts, while also enabling his own two-factor authentication.
Warrants Sent To AT&T And Google
After gaining control of the crypto investor’s account, Ortiz sent a message to his family stating, “TELL YOUR DAD TO GIVE US BITCOIN” through iMessage. Police officers were eventually able to trace the college student’s malicious activities and proceeded to send a warrant to AT&T (his phone carrier).
The warrant required the phone service provider to submit a call record to the authorities, which was used to determine the dates on which Ortiz hacked the phone numbers. After the investigation it was found that the international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) number of the hacker belonged to Ortiz’s Samsung smartphone.
In order to further track the college student’s criminal activities, Google was also sent a warrant, which was used to obtain email addresses and other personal information linked to Ortiz’s phone. This led to evidence that has helped the authorities recover about $250,000 worth of cryptocurrency stolen by Ortiz. The police stated that they are currently unable to locate the rest of the stolen funds but are still investigating the incident.
Ortiz was arrested on July 12th at Los Angeles International Airport where he was about to board a plane to Europe. His arrest came just one day after 28 charges had been filed against him, which include 2 counts of grand theft, 13 counts of identity theft and fraud, and 13 counts of exploitative hacking.
In reference to this incident, the court papers stated,
This is the first reported case against someone who allegedly used the increasingly popular technique known as SIM swapping or SIM hijacking to steal bitcoin, other cryptocurrencies, and social media accounts.