Authorities in Oklahoma City arrested a man who sources in the criminal hacking community believe to be one of the most infamous “SIM swappers,” who steal cellphone numbers and use them in cryptocurrency heists. He is accused of stealing $14 million in cryptocurrency in one single heist.
At the end of September, Oklahoma News 4 reported that the Secret Service had detained Joseph Harris, 21, and Fletcher Robert Childers, 23. Harris, according to multiple sources in the criminal underground world of SIM hijackers, is known as “Doc,” who they claim is one of the most prolific SIM swappers on the internet.
In the last year, criminals have been targeting victims with so-called SIM swapping, SIM hijacking, or port out scams. This is an increasingly popular and dangerous scam. It consists of tricking a cellphone provider into transferring the target’s phone number to a SIM card controlled by the criminal, then fraudsters can leverage it to reset the victims’ passwords and break into their online accounts and steal their cryptocurrency.
Harris has been charged with hacking, identity theft, and grand larceny, according to a statement of facts provided by the authorities to Motherboard. Harris is accused of stealing $14 million in cryptocurrency from Crowd Machine, a blockchain startup. On September 21, Harris allegedly hacked the company’s CEO and stole his private keys, which allowed him to access Crowd Machine wallets and steal the cryptocurrency.
The CEO reported the theft the next day to the Regional Enforcement Allied Computer Team—or REACT—a task force of multiple local California police departments that focuses on cybercrime, which has been investigating SIM swapping hacks for months. After a quick investigation, the authorities were able to locate and arrest Harris along with Childers, who has yet to be charged, according to authorities.
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Overall, it took investigators only three days to track down Harris.
“That’s the long arm of the law,” Dave Berry, one of the REACT investigators on the case, told Motherboard in a phone call.
Berry and his colleagues did not want to confirm definitely that Harris is indeed Doc, as “nicknames get a little confusing.” But several criminal sources claimed Harris is indeed Doc.
Earlier this year, Ian Balina, a cryptocurrency investor who was hacked and lost more than $2 million, believes two hackers named Doc and Veri were responsible.
“He’s been pretty busy in the hacking world for a while,” Berry told Motherboard. “And he’s clearly very tech savvy.”
Harris is just the last in a growing list of arrests. At the end of July, REACT arrested 20-year-old Joel Ortiz, accusing him of having stolen millions on cryptocurrency. Then Florida authorities arrested a 25-year-old. Finally, before Harris, California cops nabbed 19-year-old Xzavyer Narvaez, who used stolen bitcoin to buy luxury cars.
More arrests are coming, according to the investigators.
“REACT isn’t going to stop the SIM swapping investigation until SIM swapping stops,” REACT commander John Rose told me. “If it’s gonna take us arresting every SIM swapper in United States.”
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