Spanish police arrest suspects in SIM card swap ring

Spanish law enforcement has arrested eight people suspected of running a SIM card swap ring.

SIM card swapping attacks, also known as SIM card hijacking, occur when criminals attempt to steal your phone number.

Since our mobiles are now central hubs used in the second stage of account verification, including via SMS or two-factor authentication (2FA) apps, being able to trick operators into give up control means victims can lose access to their online accounts and services. .

SIM card swaps usually result in the theft of funds from bank accounts and cryptocurrency wallets. Last year, a UK national was charged by US law enforcement for allegedly carrying out a SIM card swap to steal $784,000 in cryptocurrency, and as one of our own writers put it experienced, funds can be stolen to make cryptocurrency purchases which are then sent to vetted attackers. wallets.

Phone number porting occurs when a criminal uses stolen information and social engineering to pretend to be a customer of a carrier and requests a number transfer or a SIM card to be sent to them. double. Even if a victim quickly realizes something is wrong, a short window of time is all it takes to cause serious damage.

In the case investigated by the Spanish National Police, eight suspects allegedly used phishing texts, emails and instant messages to impersonate banks. Victims would then hand over their sensitive personal data and bank details, providing the information needed for social engineering attempts.

Now armed with this information, the suspects are said to have contacted carriers and requested duplicate SIM cards for their victims’ phone numbers.

SIM-swapping attacks would then be carried out, in which the phone numbers linked to the bank accounts would, for a time, be under the control of the criminal. It was then possible for cybercriminals to intercept 2FA codes sent by the victim’s bank to access their accounts and perform fraudulent transactions.

Police say the suspects also “falsified official documents”. In particular, photocopies of Documento nacional de identidad (DNI) identity cards were shown to staff, in which photographs were manipulated to make the fraudster appear as the rightful owner of the handset.

The eight individuals, seven located in Barcelona and one in Seville, are detained. According to the National Police, law enforcement first learned of the scheme in March 2021, when complaints were filed about fraudulent bank transfers.

“Although the first steps took place in remote places, the investigations led the investigators to the province of Barcelona, ​​where those currently detained laundered the defrauded money by operating via bank transfers and digital instant payment platforms. “, officers said.

In February, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned that rates of SIM card swapping attacks were increasing.

According to the law enforcement agency, from January 2018 to December 2020, 320 SIM card swapping attack complaints were registered, with losses reaching around $12 million. In 2021 alone, 1,611 SIM swapping claims were filed with damages estimated at at least $68 million.

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