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California

Multinational cryptocurrency hacking scheme results in nine arrests

Cryptocurrency milestone
Bitcoin is the most famous of digital currencies.
(Dreamstime / TNS)

Nine individuals, including a Riverside County man, have been charged in a multinational cryptocurrency hacking scheme that resulted in a theft valued at about $2.4 million, authorities said.

Prosecutors have accused six suspected hackers from an online group known as the Community of taking part in an identity theft attack called “SIM hijacking,” in which the hacker gains control of a victim’s cellphone number and reroutes calls and text messages to hacker-controlled devices.

Once hackers obtain control of a phone number, they are able to use the number to access emails, cloud storage and cryptocurrency exchange accounts, including bitcoin — the most famous of digital currencies, according to a memo from the U.S. Department of Justice.

A West Hollywood resident reported a cryptocurrency theft in February 2018. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department investigated and ultimately identified Reyad Gafar Abbas, 19, of Rochester, N.Y., as the alleged cyberattacker.

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Deputies assisted in Abbas’ arrest last week and uncovered digital evidence that prosecutors said showed communications between Abbas and other alleged Community members — including Fendley Joseph, 28, of Murrieta.

Authorities say the hack often begins by bribing an employee of a mobile phone provider. The hacker also may pose as a victim, contact a phone provider and request a phone number be swapped to a SIM card under the hacker’s control, according to court documents. That control allows passwords and two-factor authentication to be reset.

The six alleged members of the Community were charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Three former employees of mobile phone providers also were charged with wire fraud.

Besides the California man, those charged in the theft hail from Florida, Iowa, New York, Missouri, Connecticut, Arizona and Ireland. They range in age from 19 to 28.

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“Mobile phones today are not only a means of communication but also a means of identification,” U.S. Atty. Matthew Schneider said in a statement. “This case should serve as a reminder to all of us to protect our personal and financial information from those who seek to steal it.”

colleen.shalby@latimes.com

@cshalby


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