Fraudsters hijack phone numbers to drain financial accounts – NBC4 Washington

Scammers use victims’ phone numbers to drain their accounts, but there are ways to protect against the scheme.

Victims who reached out to NBC4 Responds say their phones stopped working without warning – no incoming calls, texts, or exits.

“I was on the phone with all my friends, and the line was quiet,” Abdel Mousa said.

“My phone goes out 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 providers.

“They told me, yes, there were two changes on the same day on my SIM card,” said Emmanuel Taveras.

“It was, ‘Oh, well, I see the number has been dialed out,'” Chant Lee said.

The mobile phone providers said they received purported requests from victims to transfer their number to another carrier.

“It was done without my permission,” Gibert said.

In all five cases, the victims were not the people who made these requests. The carriers eventually realized that their customers had been scammed.

“In that chat they admitted that there was a scam,” Patti Griffin said.

It is really ironic that they use a security that is designed to protect the privacy of individuals against them.

Chuck Brooks, Cyber ​​Security Expert

What happened to them is called SIM swapping or port theft, and they are two techniques that have the same purpose: hacking accounts, stealing information, and wiping financial accounts.

“When I verified my Coinbase account, my entire account, they defunded it,” Taveras said.

Thieves stole $8000 worth of crypto from his account. They received $10,000 from Lee’s mother’s Coinbase account.

“She’s 70 and still working,” he told me.

Thieves especially like to steal cryptocurrency because it is difficult to track them, but the authorities say that every financial account is a target.

Scammers call your carrier’s customer service or go in person to your carrier’s retail store and impersonate a legitimate customer, requesting that that customer’s phone number be transferred to a new phone or SIM card.

“They do this first with background detection — usually, not always — to find background on what you may have over-shared on social media,” said Chuck Brooks, a cybersecurity expert.

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 a person’s mobile phone number, they can reset their account passwords using two-factor authentication, a security feature that sends a code to the account holder’s phone number, which is now controlled by the scammer. Using the code, they can steal and drain accounts.

“It’s really ironic that they are using security that is designed to protect the privacy of individuals against them,” Brooks said.

Law enforcement takes notice.

“Recently, we’ve started noticing a significant increase in the number of complaints we receive,” said FBI Special Agent Al Murray.

From 2018 to 2020, the FBI received 300 complaints that resulted in a loss of $12 million to victims. In 2021, the number of complaints doubled with a loss of more than $68 million.

“Most cybercriminals are some kind of spearhead,” Murray said. “They always come up with new schemes. We find a way to stop them.”

To protect against schemas:

  1. Do not share your phone number or address on social media.
  2. Don’t brag about how much money you’ve made on investments.
  3. Download a two-factor authentication app like Duo even if the scammer has your phone number, they won’t be able to access your apps.

“I’m poor,” said Griffin. “I don’t have any money and I thought it would be the best revenge because they won’t get anything from me.”

But they got a little bit of money from Gibert, and for him, the whole experience was a wake-up call.

“It was very tedious going through every account I owned, removing my phone number and setting up different methods, such as recovering passwords so that I could better protect myself in future situations,” he said.

Wireless carriers encourage their customers to set up security features such as a PIN to prevent changes to accounts.

After weeks of calls with providers, the five victims had their numbers back.

Stolen phone numbers can be reported to the Federal Communications Commission and the FBI.