Scammers use victims’ phone numbers to drain their accounts, but there are ways to protect yourself against this scheme.
Victims who contacted NBC4 Responds say their phones stopped working without warning – no incoming or outgoing calls or texts.
“I was on the phone with all my friends, and the line went silent,” Abdul Musa said.
“My phone service is down while I’m on a call with my sister,” said Myron Keith Gibert Jr.
When the signal did not return, the victims contacted their wireless service providers.
“They told me, yes, that there were two changes on the same day on my SIM card,” said Emmanuel Taveras.
“It was, ‘Oh, well, I see the number was requested to be transferred,'” Chante ‘Lee said.
Mobile phone providers said they received requests allegedly from victims to transfer their number to another operator.
“It was done without my permission,” Gibert said.
In all five cases, the victims were not the people who made the requests. The carriers finally realized that their customers had been scammed.
“They even acknowledged in that conversation that a fraud had been committed,” Patti Griffin said.
What happened to them is called SIM swapping or port-out theft, two techniques with the same goal: hacking into accounts, stealing information and cleaning up financial accounts.
“When I verified my Coinbase account, my entire account, they canceled it,” Taveras said.
Thieves stole $8,000 worth of crypto from his account. They received $10,000 from Lee’s mother’s Coinbase account.
“She’s 70 and she’s still working,” Lee said.
Thieves are especially fond of stealing cryptocurrency because it’s harder to trace, but authorities say every financial account is a target.
Scammers call a mobile operator’s customer service or visit the operator’s retail store in person and pose as a legitimate customer, requesting that customer’s phone number be ported to a new phone or a new SIM card.
“They do this first by uncovering backgrounds — usually, not always — by finding information about what you may have shared too much on social media,” said cybersecurity expert Chuck Brooks.
Scammers can learn a lot about people from their accounts: email, phone number, names of relatives, where they went to school.
Once scammers have control of someone’s cell phone number, they can reset their account passwords using two-factor authentication, a security feature that sends a code to the number account holder’s phone number, which the scammer now controls. With the code, they can hijack accounts and empty them.
“It’s really quite ironic that they use security designed to protect the privacy of individuals against them,” Brooks said.
Law enforcement notices.
“Recently, we’ve started to notice a significant increase in the number of complaints we’re getting,” FBI Special Agent Al Murray said.
From 2018 to 2020, the FBI received 300 complaints resulting in a loss of $12 million for the victims. In 2021, the number of complaints doubled with over $68 million lost.
“Most of these cybercriminals are sort of the tip of the spear,” Murray said. “They always come up with new projects. We find a way to stop them.
To protect against schemes:
- Never share your phone number or address on social media.
- Don’t brag about the amount of money you’ve earned from your investments.
- Download a two-factor authentication app like Duo so that even if the scammer has your phone number, they won’t have access to your apps.
“I’m poor,” Griffin said. “I don’t have any money and I thought that would be the best revenge because they wouldn’t get anything from me.”
But they got some money from Gibert, and for him the whole experience was a wake-up call.
“It was very tedious going through every account I have and deleting my phone number and setting up different methods to, for example, recover passwords so that I can better protect myself for future situations,” a- he declared.
Wireless carriers encourage their customers to set up security features like a PIN to prevent account changes.
After weeks of calls with their providers, the five victims found their numbers.
Stolen phone numbers can be reported to the Federal Communication Commission and the FBI.