JOSEPH JAMES O’CONNOR, a/k/a “PlugwalkJoe,”
Indicted For SIM Swapping Attacks
November 8, 2021
An Indictment charged JOSEPH JAMES
O’CONNOR, a/k/a “PlugwalkJoe,” with conspiracy to commit
computer hacking and other crimes in connection with a SIM
swapping scheme that resulted in the theft of approximately
$784,000 worth of cryptocurrency. The case has been assigned to
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman. O’CONNOR was previously
arrested in Spain on other U.S. federal charges. The Government
is also pursuing O’CONNOR’s extradition from Spain on the
charges in this case.
According to the allegations in the Indictment unsealed
During a cyber intrusion known as a SIM swap attack, cyber
threat actors gain control of a victim’s mobile phone number by
linking that number to a subscriber identity module (“SIM”) card
controlled by the threat actors, resulting in the victim’s calls
and messages being routed to a malicious unauthorized device
controlled by the threat actors. The threat actors then
typically use control of the victim’s mobile phone number to
obtain unauthorized access to accounts held by the victim that
are registered to the mobile phone number.
Between approximately March 2019 and May 2019, JOSEPH JAMES
O’CONNOR, a/k/a “PlugwalkJoe,” the defendant, and his
co-conspirators perpetrated a scheme to use SIM swaps to conduct
cyber intrusions in order to steal approximately $784,000 worth
of cryptocurrency from a Manhattan-based cryptocurrency company
(“Company-1”), which, at all relevant times, provided wallet
infrastructure and related software to cryptocurrency exchanges
around the world.
As part of the scheme, O’CONNOR and his co-conspirators
successfully perpetrated SIM swap attacks targeting at least
three Company-1 executives. Following a successful SIM swap
attack targeting one of the executives on or about April 30,
2019, O’CONNOR and his co-conspirators successfully gained
unauthorized access to multiple Company-1 accounts and computer
systems. On or about May 1, 2019, through their unauthorized
access, O’CONNOR and his co-conspirators stole and fraudulently
diverted cryptocurrency of various types (the “Stolen
Cryptocurrency”) from cryptocurrency wallets maintained by
Company-1 on behalf of two of its clients. The Stolen
Cryptocurrency was worth at least approximately $784,000 at the
time of the theft and included approximately 770.784869 Bitcoin
cash, approximately 6,363.490509 Litecoin, approximately
407.396074 Ethereum, and approximately 7.456728 Bitcoin.
After stealing and fraudulently diverting the Stolen
Cryptocurrency, O’CONNOR and his co-conspirators laundered it
through dozens of transfers and transactions and exchanged some
of it for Bitcoin using cryptocurrency exchange services.
Ultimately, a portion of the Stolen Cryptocurrency was deposited
into a cryptocurrency exchange account controlled by O’CONNOR.
* * *
22, of the United Kingdom, is charged with conspiracy to commit
computer hacking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years
in prison; conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a
maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; aggravated identity
theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in
prison, which must run consecutively to any other prison term
imposed on the other charges; and conspiracy to commit money
laundering, which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison.
The maximum potential sentences set forth above are prescribed
by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes
only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by
The charges in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the
defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding work of the FBI. Mr.
Williams also thanked the Department of Justice Office of
International Affairs for its assistance in this matter.
This prosecution is being handled by the Complex Frauds and
Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Olga I. Zverovich is in
charge of the prosecution.