D.A. Vance: “Sim Swapping” Identity Thief Indicted for Stealing $1 Million in Cryptocurrency


December 18, 2019

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today announced the indictment of YOUSEF SELASSIE, 19, for stealing the identities of at least 75 victims across the United States in a sophisticated “SIM swapping” scheme, through which he stole more than $1 million in cryptocurrency. SELASSIE is charged in a New York State Supreme Court indictment with Identity Theft, Grand Larceny, Computer Trespass, Computer Tampering, and Scheme to Defraud, among other charges.[1]

“From his Brooklyn apartment, this defendant accessed accounts belonging to 75 victims in 20 different states,” said District Attorney Vance. “As alleged, in just 4 months he drained his victims of more than $1 million in cryptocurrency with little more than an iPhone and computer. This is the third major SIM-swapping case my Office has brought in recent months, and it won’t be the last. 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. Help us put SIM swappers out of business.”                                          

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.

People v. Selassie

According to the indictment and documents filed in court, between January 20 and May 19, 2019, SELASSIE fraudulently transferred the cell phone numbers of at least 75 different individuals across the United States, including New York County, to Apple iPhones in his possession. SELASSIE then circumvented two-factor authentication security measures to access the victims’ online accounts, by requesting that recovery codes be texted to the phone numbers already associated with those online accounts – phone numbers which he now controlled.

SELASSIE accessed the victims’ online accounts, including but not limited to Gmail, Yahoo, and Dropbox, in order to determine whether the victims maintained cryptocurrency accounts. In some instances, SELASSIE also changed the passwords on accounts to prevent the victims from regaining control. As alleged, SELASSIE intentionally selected and targeted victims known to be active in cryptocurrency, due in part to the inherent difficulty in tracing the theft and transfer of cryptocurrency. In total, SELASSIE accessed accounts belonging to victims in 20 different states, and stole more than $1 million in cryptocurrency.

Upon executing a search warrant at the defendant’s home in Brooklyn, New York, investigators recovered numerous electronic devices and a handwritten note containing a seed phrase for a cryptocurrency wallet. A search of an Apple iPhone X revealed artifacts tying SELASSIE to a number of known victims, while a search of the reconstituted wallet connected SELASSIE to the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency.

SELASSIE was arrested in Corona, California, pursuant to the execution of a search warrant that resulted in the recovery of numerous electronic devices and multiple pieces of custom-made jewelry that had been purchased with bitcoin.

SIM Swapping Prosecutions

Last month, DAWSON BAKIES pleaded guilty to one count of Identity Theft in the 1st Degree and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the 1st Degree, with a promised sentence of 2-to-6 years in prison, for stealing the identities and funds of more than 50 victims across the United States in a SIM-swapping scheme executed from his Ohio home.

In July 2019, RICHARD LI was charged with a third SIM-swapping scheme that resulted in the theft of more than $3,000 from a Manhattan resident.

Reporting 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. James Vinocur (Deputy Chief of the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau) is handling the prosecution of the cases against SELASSIE and BAKIES, and Assistant D.A. Alona Katz is handling the prosecution of the case against LI, under the supervision of Assistant D.A. Elizabeth Roper (Chief of the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau), and Executive Assistant D.A. Michael Sachs (Chief of the Investigation Division). Senior Rackets Investigator Thomas Mullin, Supervising Rackets Investigator Gregory Dunlavey, and Cybercrime Analyst Catherine Wigdor assisted with the case, as did the D.A.’s High Technology Analysis Unit.

District Attorney Vance thanked the NYPD – Grand Larceny Division, as well as U.S. Homeland Security Investigations for their assistance with the investigation.

Defendant Information:

YOUSEF SELASSIE, D.O.B. 2/20/2000

Charged:

  • Grand Larceny in the First Degree, a class B felony, 1 count
  • Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony, 1 count
  • Identity Theft in the First Degree, a class D felony, 1 count
  • Identity Theft in the Second Degree, a class E felony, 4 counts
  • Computer Trespass, a class E felony, 26 counts
  • Computer Tampering in the Third Degree, a class E felony, 26 counts
  • Attempted Computer Trespass, a class A misdemeanor, 1 count
  • Unlawful Possession of Personal Identification Information in the Third Degree, a class A misdemeanor
  • Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, a class E felony, 1 count

[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.