Alabama man charged in large-scale SIM swapping scheme that targeted Manhattan residents, hundreds more

·2 min read

An Alabama man accused of stealing more than $150,000 in cryptocurrency through a large-scale SIM swapping scheme that targeted Manhattan residents was hit with a host of charges on Wednesday.

Joseph Chase Oaks, 22, faces grand larceny, identity theft, computer trespass, computer tampering, scheme to defraud, and other related charges for his scam that targeted hundreds of unwitting victims, prosecutors said at his arraignment. A judge released him without bail.

Prosecutors said the Millbrook man accessed 50 online accounts, at least 15 of which belonged to Manhattan-based residents — stealing more than $150,000 in cryptocurrency between August 2018 and October 2019.

“Mr. Oaks is accused of fraudulently transferring the cell phone numbers of more than 300 people to phones in his possession,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance in a statement.

“Two years ago, I announced the first prosecution for SIM swapping by New York authorities and one of the first in the country. While that individual has since pleaded guilty and been sentenced to state prison, today’s indictment makes clear that SIM swapping has only grown more common and prolific.”

SIM swapping means what it sounds like: a thief transfers a person’s number to their own cell phone. From there, the thief can make calls and texts from the victim’s stolen number. With direct access to the victim’s phone, thieves can circumvent two-factor authentication security measures — used by banking and social media apps — to access sensitive online accounts.

At his Manhattan Supreme Court arraignment, prosecutors said Oaks worked in conjunction with other scam artists in the U.S. and Canada to access more than 60 different Apple and Android smartphones and hundreds of SIM cards.

If you believe you or someone you know has been targeted in a SIM swapping scheme, contact the Manhattan DA at (212) 335-9600. People may also submit tips anonymously through Signal, Wickr, Telegram, or WhatsApp at (347) 463-2198.

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