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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 yesterday:

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.

* * *

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 Court.

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.

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