Northern California Crypto Execs Scammed Out of Millions by Hacker

A federal judge ordered a young hacker who allegedly stole cryptocurrency from Northern California crypto executives to forfeit nearly $5.2 million worth of Bitcoin and a sports car to the U.S. government last week. 

Ahmad Wagaafe Hared was a teenage resident of Tucson, Arizona, in 2016 when prosecutors say he began working with two co-conspirators to steal cryptocurrency. Hared allegedly targeted victims in Northern California, which is why his case is playing out in San Francisco’s federal court. 

While it’s unclear which company executives Hared targeted in Northern California, the Bay Area has long been a hub of cryptocurrency startups. Hundreds of cryptocurrency organizations have called the region home, according to Crunchbase, including crypto exchange Coinbase, which was headquartered in San Francisco for years and is now leasing space in Mountain View.

Hared and his accomplices first obtained the personal contact information of cryptocurrency executives and investors, prosecutors say. Then, they allegedly contacted cellphone service providers and manipulated company representatives into thinking they were the rightful owners of the phone numbers they were targeting. Hared’s team would then allegedly transfer the targeted phone number over to their own phone; this is known as SIM swapping.

Taking hold of their victims’ phone numbers allowed Hared and his co-conspirators to break into email and other accounts, prosecutors said in a 2019 indictment. Ultimately, Hared and his team members used their access to these accounts to force their way into their victims’ cryptocurrency depositories to drain them.

The scheme was apparently lucrative. Last Friday, a federal judge in San Francisco issued a preliminary order of forfeiture granting the government permission to seize 119.8 Bitcoin from Hared, which is currently worth $5.2 million, according to Yahoo Finance. Hared also has to hand over 93,420 Stellar Coins, worth $11,770, and a 2017 BMW i8, which would likely pick up about $60,000 on the used car market, according to Kelly Bluebook.

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