Recently in California, Joel Ortiz was sentenced to ten years in prison for hacking into cell phones and stealing more than 7.5 million dollars worth of cryptocurrencies from at least forty victims.   Ortiz was able to accomplish these crimes through SIM swapping which has become an increasing danger.  Ortiz was one of the first people in the country to be convicted of crimes related to SIM swapping.  A Subscriber Identity Module, more commonly known as a SIM card, is an integrated circuit that stores information used to authenticate subscribers on mobile devices, such as a cell phone.  The SIM card is able to be transferred between different devices, and often is, when people update into a newer cell phone.  However, as more and more financial transactions, such as online banking and managing cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are now done through cell phones, identity thieves with access to their victims’ SIM cards are also increasingly becoming able to intercept security codes sent by text messages for online banking  or cryptocurrency transactions as part of dual factor authentication and thereby providing the identity thief with the opportunity to empty their victims’ bank accounts  or cryptocurrency wallets and cause other financial havoc.

Porting is the name for the crime where someone convinces your phone carrier to transfer your SIM card to a phone controlled by the criminal. To prevent someone from stealing access to your phone through porting, you should have a PIN added to your  cell phone account so that no one can call your cell phone provider posing as you and ask to have your SIM card transferred.  Recently, Sydney Australia police charged a man with involvement in porting and a SIM swapping conspiracy by which the criminals took over the cell phone accounts of seventy people and managed to gain access to their victims’ bank accounts.   They then used the accounts to purchase more than $100,000 in goods.  According to Cybercrime Squad commander, detective superintendent Matt Craft this type of crime cost Australians at least ten million dollars in the last year.

The best protection for your phone starts with a strong password, facial recognition or fingerprint scanner.  Also, set your phone so that it locks when you are not using it.  Make sure that you back up everything in your phone regularly. Install the Find My iPhone app if you have an iPhone or the Find My Device app if you have an Android phone.  These will enable you to locate your cellphone if it is lost or stolen and also allow you to send a command to erase everything in your cellphone even if the phone has been turned off.  If your phone is lost or stolen, you should immediately contact your wireless provider to have them disable the SIM card in your phone so that your phone cannot be used by someone else.  As for protecting your phone from cyberattacks, it is important to both download and continually update security software.

The wireless carrier industry has got to do a better job of securing SIM cards. The best thing you can do to  protect your SIM card from being swapped is to set up a PIN or password to be used for access to your mobile service provider account.  Sprint and Verizon use PINs while T-Mobile and A T and T will let you set up a password.  This will help prevent someone from calling your carrier and posing as you convince them to swap your SIM card to the criminal’s phone.

In order to use Bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies you need to first set up a wallet on your computer or cell phone which will contain information for you to use to access your coins that are in the blockchain. Cryptocurrencies, just as everything else tied to computers and cell phones carry inherent vulnerabilities.  The best way to avoid problems is to take particular care in choosing where you store your Bitcoins online.  Many Bitcoin exchanges have had security breaches and will always be a prime target for hackers.  In addition to using a strong password you should also use dual factor authentication to provide greater security, encrypt your wallet and backup your entire wallet.   Securing your SIM card with a PIN  at your cell phone carrier in order to protect it from being swapped and used by a criminal to pierce your dual factor authentication is also essential.   Finally, make sure that your cryptocurrency software is updated with the latest security patches as soon as they become available.

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