Tech Savvy Student Steals $7.5 Million in Cryptocurrency – Gets 10 Years in Jail

cryptocurrency hacking hacker cyber securityJoel Ortiz, a skilled SIM Swapper was caught and arrested back in May 2018. On April 22nd 2019, the District Attorney’s Office of Santa Clara County made their formal announcement about his sentence – 10 years in prison.

Ortiz was a 21-year-old Boston High School valedictorian and was very prolific at stealing cryptocurrency from SIM cards. The announcement states that he had hacked the crypto wallets (worth over $7.5 million) located on mobile phones of over 40 victims.

According to the announcement, it only took Ortiz just a few minutes to steal more than $5.2 million in crypto from one Cupertino cryptocurrency entrepreneur. He performed this theft back in May of 2018.

Ortiz wasted the money lavishly on things such as:

  • Buying Gucci luggage and clothing
  • Hiring a helicopter to bring him and some friends to a music festival
  • Spending tens of thousands of dollars at Los Angeles night clubs

Stealing Cryptocurrency is NOT Easy Money

Ortiz pleaded “no contest” to the felony theft charges on January 24th, 2019. Santa Clara County Judge Edward Lee gave Ortiz his sentence on April 19th only after two hearings in which victims detailed the severe damages caused by the thefts.

Prosecutor Erin West stated the following:

“These are not Robin Hoods; these are crooks who use a computer instead of a gun. They are not just stealing some ethereal, experimental currency. They are stealing college funds, home mortgages, people’s financial lives.”

How was Joel Ortiz caught?

According to the announcement, Ortiz was tracked down and arrested by a collaborative cyber-crime task force:

“Ortiz was taken into custody at Los Angeles International Airport last year. He is one of five people who have been arrested for the growing cellphone scam by the REACT task force. Managed by the District Attorney’s Office, REACT is a task force composed of law enforcement agents from Bay Area agencies, such as the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, who work together to solve high-tech crime in Silicon Valley.”

Swapping SIM Cards and Lost Cryptocurrency

Ortiz was skilled at targeting victims to swap their SIM cards, steal their cryptocurrency and taking over social media accounts to sell them for Bitcoin.

A skilled hacker can contact a telecom company, posing as their victim and claim that their SIM card was lost (with the goal of having the number ported to a new card). Once the number is ported to a new card, the hacker would now have full control of all of their victim’s accounts that are connected to that phone number.

The REACT Task Force was only able to recover $400,000 from Ortiz after he was arrested. However, according to the District Attorney’s Office, the rest of the cryptocurrency was either already spent – or is well hidden.

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