Beware of this massive multimillion-dollar scheme to steal your cellphone and social media account

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A recent Department of Justice (DOJ) case highlights a scheme that hijacks social media and mobile phone accounts and nets criminals millions of dollars.

In a recent case involving an illegal practice known as "SIM-swapping," criminals conspired to take control of accounts and steal cryptocurrency, according to the Department of Justice.

One of the conspirators, Declan Harrington, 21, of Massachusetts, pleaded guilty to several counts including conspiracy, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, according to the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office

SIM-swapping has become a lucrative criminal enterprise over the past few years, driven by the rise of flush cryptocurrency accounts that can be worth millions of dollars.

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Harrington and co-conspirators targeted victims who they believed had large amounts of cryptocurrency and "high value" social media account names, authorities said.

The conspirators targeted at least 10 victims around the country and "stole (or attempted to steal) more than $530,000 in cryptocurrency from these victims," the DOJ said.

One of the conspirators also took control of two of the victims’ social media accounts.

Sim swapping net millions

SIM-swapping has become a lucrative criminal enterprise over the past few years, driven by the rise of flush cryptocurrency accounts that can be worth millions of dollars.

A SIM is a computer chip inside a mobile phone that contains an ID number unique to the phone's subscriber.

Typically, in a SIM swap, a wireless carrier is tricked into switching the SIM (linked to the subscriber) to the criminal’s SIM. The attacker then performs password resets for the user’s mobile phone account.

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"The cybercriminals can then reset the victim’s account log-in credentials and use those credentials to access the victim’s account without authorization," the DOJ said.

In a case earlier this year, several people were arrested in connection to attacks that stole more than $100 million, according to the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation or EUROPOL.

Those attacks targeted thousands of victims in 2020, including internet influencers, sport stars, musicians and their families," EUROPOL said.

And there have been other high-profile cases over the last several years of criminals netting multiple millions of dollars.

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The FBI explains the final steps in a criminal SIM swap as follows:

"Access accounts: Gain access to the victim’s accounts and identify digital currency keys, wallets, and accounts that may be stored in them. Defeat any SMS-based or mobile application-based two-factor authentication on any accounts with control of the victim’s phone number.

"Steal currency: Transfer the digital currency out of the victim’s account into accounts controlled by the attackers."

Brooke Crothers Fox News