Three individuals have been indicted for their involvement in an identity theft conspiracy, which reportedly included a $400 million hack of cryptocurrency exchange FTX.
The alleged ringleader, Robert Powell, along with alleged co-conspirators Carter Rohn, an Indianapolis resident, and Emily Hernandez, a Colorado resident, face charges related to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and access device fraud, according to the report. Powell is scheduled to appear in federal court in Chicago on Friday for a detention hearing.
The conspiracy began in March 2021 and lasted until April 2023, the report said, citing the indictment issued by a grand jury in federal court in Washington, D.C. The three defendants are accused of obtaining personal identifying information from more than 50 victims. They allegedly created fake identification documents in the victims’ names, impersonated them and gained unauthorized access to their online, financial and social media accounts to steal money and data.
The indictment highlights that the scheme relied on duping phone companies into swapping the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) of cell phone subscribers into a cellphone controlled by the conspirators, per the report. By doing so, they were able to bypass multifactor authentication protection on the victims’ accounts, granting them access to the funds stored within.
The indictment does not explicitly mention FTX as the main victim, but the details provided align with the publicly known information about the hack, according to the report. FTX, which was already facing financial difficulties, filed for bankruptcy protection on the same day as the hack. A source familiar with the case told CNBC that FTX was indeed the victim mentioned in the indictment.
Former FTX Chief Sam Bankman-Fried was convicted in November 2023 for conspiracy and wire fraud charges related to stealing billions of dollars from customers. He is currently awaiting sentencing in Manhattan federal court.
The FBI said in an official warning released in February 2022 that SIM swapping scams are gaining popularity and targeting both fiat and crypto accounts. When a SIM swap is made, calls, texts and other data meant for the victim’s device flow to the criminal’s device, enabling the fraudster to tap into bank and crypto accounts.