Federal Prosecutors Charge Teen in Crypto Theft Scam
Federal authorities have charged a 19-year-old man with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft after a crypto theft scam left 5 victims robbed of $800,000. The suspect is reportedly part of a hacking group known as Scattered Spider or Oktapus. The group was reportedly behind a 2022 campaign that compromised more than 130 organizations, most notably, the customer engagement platform Twilio and the email service provider MailChimp. Microsoft researchers say the group was an affiliate of the Russian hacking organization BlackCat which orchestrates ransomware attacks against U.S. casinos.
The defendant, who goes by several handles online, faces 14 criminal counts including wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. These charges can potentially add up to decades in federal prison. Authorities arrested the defendants on January 9. He is currently being kept in jail while awaiting trial.
According to the indictment, the defendant faces charges of stealing cryptocurrency through a process known as SIM swapping to intercept one-time verification passwords sent through SMS. The defendant is alleged to have orchestrated SIM-swapping attacks against email and financial accounts of his victims between August 2022 and March 2023, according to prosecutors.
Wire fraud charges
18 U.S.C. § 1343 defines the federal crime of wire fraud. Under the wire fraud statute, federal prosecutors can charge any individual with wire fraud who:
“Having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds for the purpose of executing such a scheme or artifice…”
The statute is intentionally broad and can apply to any number of criminal actions that constitute fraud that has been committed using radio, television, telephone, or the Internet. The terms “scheme” and “artifice” are interpreted broadly to describe acts such as the use of false pretenses, embezzlement, or other illegal acts that result in an individual being swindled of their property.
In this case, the defendant is alleged to have operated a SIM-swapping hack based on a phishing technique to steal cryptocurrency. This constitutes wire fraud because he used electronic communications to orchestrate the hack. Wire fraud has a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
He has further been charged with aggravated identity theft. He can be charged individually for each instance of identity theft. The sentences would be added to his sentence of wire fraud. He can face an additional 2 years in prison for each occurrence of identity theft. Since there are 5 victims, that is an additional 10 years in prison.
Talk to a Tampa, FL Federal Wire Fraud Attorney Today
The Matassini Law Firm represents the interests of those charged with various forms of fraud by the federal government including wire fraud. Call our Tampa criminal defense lawyers today to schedule an appointment, and we can begin discussing defense strategies right away. Nicholas G. Matassini is Board Certified in Criminal Trial Law by The Florida Bar, the highest recognition of professionalism and trial experience in Florida.