The techno-crooks hijacked the phones of thousands of people across America in an audacious year-long scam known as “sim swapping”. After switching passwords, the gang had access to victims’ bank and cryptocurrency accounts, say police. A year-long investigation was launched by the FBI, the US Secret Service and other agencies to track down the thieves.
Eight men aged between 18 and 26 were arrested in England and Scotland on Tuesday in a swoop co-ordinated by Europol.
Two other suspects were earlier arrested in Malta and Belgium but at least two others are still at large.
Europol said: “The attacks orchestrated by this gang targeted thousands of victims throughout 2020, including internet influencers, sport stars, musicians and their families.
“The criminals are believed to have stolen around £72million in cryptocurrencies after illegally gaining access to their phones.
“This sweep follows a year-long investigation conducted by law enforcement authorities from the UK, US, Belgium, Malta and Canada.”
The probe, which involved Britain’s National Crime Agency, was launched last spring. Police declined to identify any of the celebrity victims.
Europol said: “The investigation uncovered how a network of a dozen criminals accessed the victims’ phone numbers to take control of their apps or accounts by changing passwords.
“This enabled them to steal money, cryptocurrencies and personal data. They hijacked social media accounts to post content and send messages masquerading as the victim.”
“Sim swapping” involves switching a victim’s sim card with a new one by a criminal to control their phone.
The British suspects were arrested in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Coventry, Nottingham, Dumfries and Glasgow. They have been released under investigation pending inquiries.