D.A. Vance: Major Identity Thief Charged in “SIM Swapping” Scheme That Targeted 300 Victims Across the U.S. and Canada


February 10, 2021

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr., today announced the indictment of JOSEPH CHASE OAKS, 22, for his role in a sophisticated “SIM swapping” scheme that targeted more than 300 victims across the United States and Canada. OAKS is charged with successfully accessing at least 50 online accounts belonging to 15 Manhattan-based victims and stealing more than $150,000 in cryptocurrency. OAKS is charged in a New York State Supreme Court indictment with Grand Larceny, Identity Theft, Computer Trespass, Computer Tampering, and Scheme to Defraud, among other charges.[1]

“Mr. Oaks is accused of fraudulently transferring the cell phone numbers of more than 300 people to phones in his possession,” said District Attorney Vance. “Two years ago, I announced the first prosecution for SIM swapping by New York authorities and one of the first in the country. While that individual has since pleaded guilty and been sentenced to state prison, today’s indictment makes clear that SIM swapping has only grown more common and prolific. We urge anyone with information about a SIM swapping scheme to report it directly to our Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau at 212-335-9600. You can also submit tips anonymously to our Office through Signal, Wickr, Telegram, or WhatsApp at (347) 463-2198.”

“The kind of cyber-enabled frauds alleged in today’s indictment are no match for law enforcement’s increasingly sophisticated ability to track criminals into the digital frontier. I commend the work of our NYPD detectives, the prosecutors of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and all of our law enforcement partners, in combating the swindlers who seek to leverage the tools of our interconnectedness to victimize vast numbers of innocent people,” said Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.

“SIM swapping is yet another way that criminals are using technology to violate individuals’ privacy and to defraud innocent victims out of their hard-earned cash.  Oaks allegedly gained access to the victims’ mobile accounts where he manipulated the movement of funds from their cryptocurrency wallets and banking accounts to his own accounts,” said Peter C. Fitzhugh, special agent in charge of HSI New York.  “Criminals committing any financial crime who believe they can hide behind their computer screen should be wary because the HSI New York Cyber Division and our partners will continue to track you, find you, arrest you, and ultimately bring you to justice.”

What Is “SIM Swapping?”

“SIM swapping” refers to a scam in which a thief transfers a victim’s phone number to a phone owned by the thief. Once the phone number has been transferred to the thief’s phone, that person can then receive or place calls and send text messages using the stolen number. He or she can then circumvent text-based two-factor authentication security measures and intercept text messages containing security codes needed to reset passwords and access the victim’s online accounts, including cryptocurrency accounts.

For more information about SIM swapping, including tips to prevent becoming a victim of this or other types of identity theft, please visit our website here.

People v. Oaks

According to the indictment and documents filed in court, between August 2018 and October 2019, OAKS worked with others to fraudulently transfer the cell phone numbers of more than 300 different individuals across the United States and Canada to multiple smartphones in OAKS’ possession. Then, they circumvented two-factor authentication security measures to access the victims’ online accounts, by requesting that recovery codes be sent to the phone numbers already associated with those online accounts – phone numbers which OAKS now controlled.

Over the course of the scam, OAKS used approximately 60 different Apple and Android smartphones and hundreds of SIM cards to carry out this large-scale SIM swapping scheme. OAKS and others successfully accessed at least 50 online accounts belonging to 15 Manhattan residents, including bank accounts, social media profiles, email and messaging accounts, cryptocurrency, and Apple accounts. OAKS and others stole more than $150,000 in cryptocurrency from these victims alone. With more than 300 victims targeted, the overall proceeds of this scheme are believed to be significantly greater.

As alleged, this scheme regularly targeted individuals who were known to be active in cryptocurrency, due in part to the inherent difficulty in tracking the movement of cryptocurrency and determining ownership of cryptocurrency wallets.

Upon the execution of a search warrant at the defendant’s home in Millbrook, Alabama, the NYPD’s Financial Crimes Task Force, together with members of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Milbrook Police Department, and Homeland Security Investigations, recovered more than 400 SIM cards and 12 cell phones, including one known to have been used to conduct SIM swaps. A search of that device revealed that it had received multiple two-factor authentication codes via text, consistent with its use as part of this scheme. The agencies also recovered a 2019 Tesla Model 3 and approximately $40,000 in cash.

Report SIM Swapping

If you or someone you know is a victim of SIM swapping, please contact the D.A.’s Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau by calling our hotline at (212) 335-9600, or emailing danycybertips@gmail.com.

Tips may also be submitted anonymously through Signal, Wickr, Telegram, or WhatsApp at (347) 463-2198 (DANYCyberTips). Anonymous tips may also be emailed to danycybertips@gmail.com

Assistant D.A. Benjamen Roth is handling the prosecution of the case under the supervision of Assistant D.A.s James Vinocur, Jeremy Glickman, and Robert Shull (Deputy Chiefs of the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau), Assistant D.A. Elizabeth Roper (Chief of the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau), and Executive Assistant D.A. Christopher Conroy (Chief of the Investigation Division). Cybercrime Analyst Catherine Wigdor and the High Tech Analysis Unit, under the supervision of Steven Moran, Director, also assisted with the investigation.

District Attorney Vance thanked the NYPD – Financial Crimes Task Force and specifically Detective Peter Sganga; U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and specifically the Special Agents from Homeland Security Investigations New York, EDTF Cyber Intrusion Group, and HSI Birmingham; Special Agent Nicholas Moscona of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s State Bureau of Investigation; the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s SWAT Team; Detective Dean Wilkerson and Chief P. K. Johnson of the Millbrook Police Department; and Detective Caleb Tuttle of the REACT Task Force for their assistance with the investigation.

Defendant Information:

JOSEPH CHASE OAKS

Millbrook, AL

Charged:

  • Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a class C felony, 2 counts
  • Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a class D felony, 6 counts
  • Identity Theft in the First Degree, a class D felony, 8 counts
  • Identity Theft in the Second Degree, a class E felony, 7 counts
  • Computer Trespass, a class E felony, 50 counts
  • Computer Tampering in the Third Degree, a class E felony, 45 counts
  • Unlawful Possession of Personal Identification Information in the Third Degree, a class A misdemeanor, 48 counts
  • Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, a class E felony, 1 count

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[1] The charges contained in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. All factual recitations are derived from documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court.