Family loses $75,000 in cryptocurrency to SIM card thieves

Secret Service warns ‘SIM hijacking’ is on rise

With two young boys and a single income, “John” and “Lisa,” who chose not to reveal their actual names, were slowly building investments in cryptocurrency.

PALM BAY, Fla. – With two young boys and a single income, “John” and “Lisa,” who chose not to reveal their actual names, were slowly building investments in cryptocurrency.

On May 9, John was fishing and happened to check his crypto account on his smart phone.

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He said he was stunned to discover that $75,000 in his crypto account had dropped to $2,000.

In a report filed with the Palm Bay Police on May 10, he wrote: “I know I had over $70,000. My wife checked with our family T-Mobile plan and the company confirmed someone swapped my SIM card at approximately 3:48 p.m.”

John said his accounts with Coinbase and Coinbase Pro were emptied as he watched his phone screen.

Coinbase investigators wrote that his account, “Was accessed from a Windows 10 device and the IP address: 107.XXX.XX.XXX [PHOENIX, ARIZONA - VPN] by entering your password, a 2-step verification SMS code sent to your verified mobile number, and completing the new device confirmation requirement via email.”

John and Lisa said they were devastated because they had been saving for their two sons’ college education and a new home.

The boys, just 6 and 8, have no idea their parents were victims of so-called SIM swapping or SIM hijacking.

“Whoever hacked us was still taking money out of the account right in front of us,” Lisa said. “That was something for our kids. That was the future for us.”

The couple contacted everyone from local police to the FBI. Lisa said the FBI office told her there were similar reports in Vero Beach but that none of the cases, including her $75,000 loss, met the FBI threshold of $500,000.

“That just crushed me,” she said. “Made me feel suffocated, made me feel helpless”

The couple contacted the Secret Service Orlando Field Office and a forensics specialist was sent to investigate.

Special Agent in Charge Caroline Obrien-Buster told News 6 cyberthieves are monitoring social media to target crypto accounts because the funds are untraceable.

“Through social engineering and just the (right) amount of information obtained through social media, the phone carriers believe that I’m you,” she said.

Fred Sanks, a network intrusion forensics analyst with the Secret Service said he has seen as much as $1 million in cryptocurrency stolen by SIM hijackers.

“There’s an online way to switch a SIM card on your own,” Sanks said. “You have a whole operation. Somebody that finds the accounts, somebody who specializes in switching these SIM cards…”

Coinbase is insured but because the thieves were able to access the account using the proper smart phone security protocol, the lost money will not be reissued.

The couple has set up a GoFundMe account.

News 6 has learned that two other victims in the Palm Bay area reported SIM card swapping incidents but it is not clear how much was stolen.

The secret service advises consumers to ask your phone carrier for additional security measures including :

  • A 16-digit PIN
  • Voice print authentication
  • Facial authentication
  • Two-factor authentication in which a code is sent to you and you send the code back from your cellphone

If you are the victim of SIM hijacking, contact local law enforcement or or text makeendsmeet to 407-676-7428.

About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.