Last year, cyber criminals targeting cryptocurrency and traditional bank accounts ramped up their unlawful activities, resulting in a large spike in recorded SIM-card offences. 

In 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation received more than 1,600 SIM-swap accusations, resulting in $68 million in losses. 

The surge is due in part to cyber thieves finding a way past multifactor authentication procedures, which rely on a text message or code delivered to a customer’s phone to authenticate their identity. Criminals are after people with lucrative online accounts, especially cryptocurrency accounts. Attackers also target large-follower social media accounts that could be held for ransom, as well as any type of sensitive personal information. 

To deceive cell providers into switching a customer’s SIM card to a new phone that they control, cybercriminals utilize a variety of techniques. Once the SIM is swapped, the victim’s calls, texts and other data go to the criminal’s device, allowing them to reset passwords and respond to login verifications.  

Cyber thieves can be in and out before the victim knows what’s happening, “They always move faster than the victim” Once a thief gets control of a victim’s phone, they can empty an account in 90 seconds and the victim likely won’t even realize it has happened. 

According to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, a trade association that represents the wireless sector, mobile operators are attempting to combat fraud. “While each provider’s tools and processes vary, the industry uses a range of techniques to combat SIM switch fraud,” according to CTIA’s website, which includes a section on prevention. 

Before a cell number is moved to a new phone, best practices include setting up difficult-to-guess pin codes and adding additional security such as email approval or verbal approval, as well as text authentication. 

The FBI’s warning to small investors comes as federal law-enforcement officials beef up their efforts to track digital currencies that fund many criminal networks. On Thursday, the Justice Department launched a unit dedicated to tracing and potentially seizing illicit crypto as part of a broader push to disrupt cybercriminals. 

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