Bitcoin SIM swapper charged with stealing $50 million, arrested in British Columbia

By Christine Duhaime | January 14th, 2020

$50 Million SIM-swapped

A man from Montreal, Samy Bensaci, who allegedly stole US$50 million in Bitcoin from US residents, was arrested in Victoria, British Columbia, and removed to Ontario for prosecution, where he has since been released on bail, reported La Presse today.

The theft of $50 million happened during 2018 and 2019, according to the La Presse story, and involved several victims, all but one of whom are American. All the victims were attendees of the Bitcoin conference Consensus in 2018 in New York City. Allegedly, a Vancouver man was SIM swapped out of $2.3 million, possibly from Bensaci.

Bensaci was released pending a trial in Toronto on certain conditions, including that he refrain from using computer devices and owning or trading Bitcoin or other digital currencies. He faces charges of unauthorized computer use and identity fraud. He has not been charged with laundering the proceeds of crime.

What is a SIM Swap?

A SIM swap is a type of hacking fraud where a person communicates with a cellular service provider, impersonates a cellular account holder and convinces them to change the SIM card associated with a cellular device so that the hacker can gain control of the victim’s data.

When a SIM swap occurs, the cellular phone of the victim goes black and the fraudster then controls the data, and can text, call and interact as if they were the victim.

How Does SIM Swaps work with Bitcoin?

With respect to digital currency wallets, because some service providers use 2FA on cellular phones, it allows hackers access to steal digital currencies by changing the 2FA on the cellular phone when prompted. The hackers then can gain access to Bitcoin wallets and quickly transfer the digital currencies to Trezors under their control.

Technically, the theft of digital currencies from an exchange is always from the pooled wallet of the digital currency exchange although the victim’s account is debited from the exchange to reflect the loss, or it may be from a hard wallet with no third party intermediary involved.

One of the first SIM swaps to be litigated was the theft of US$81 million from Bitcoin investor Michael Terpin, who won a US$75.8 million civil judgment in California against 21-year-old Nicholas Truglia who SIM-swapped Terpin’s cellular phone and stole over US$23 million from Terpin’s digital currency wallets that held coins from three ICOs.

In all, Truglia is alleged to have stolen over US$81 million in crypto currencies via SIM swaps from various people and to have used the money to live a life of luxury, renting a penthouse in Manhattan, buying a US$100,000 Rolex diamond-embedded watch and to have booked private jet trips.

Laundered Funds Through Digital Currency Exchanges

Truglia was charged with impersonating numerous individuals to SIM swap them and was also sued civilly by Michael Terpin for the theft of his crypto currencies. It was alleged in that pleading that Truglia laundered millions of dollars in proceeds of crime from stolen digital currencies through Coinbase, Gemini and Binance.

A McLaren Sports Car, Private Jets, Stash of Cash

One of the deponents in the civil litigation that resulted in the Truglia judgment is a private jet broker who deposed that Truglia had no job during the time he knew him, and shortly after the SIM swap, had over US$72 million in crypto currencies on various wallets and a stash of US$100,000 in US cash chilling on his coffee table for spending money.

Shortly after the SIM swap, Truglia allegedly made plans to buy a US$250,000 McLaren sports car. Allegedly, Truglia’s Twitter account was Nick @erupts – that account holder took to Twitter to brag about stealing US$24 million, and posted images of the US$100,000 diamond watch and private jet trips.

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