'SIM swap' scams netted $68 million in 2021: FBI

Scammers can obtain cellphone numbers and bank account information.

February 15, 2022, 10:20 AM

The FBI has warned of criminals increasingly using "SIM swap" scams in which criminals obtain cellphone SIM cards from unknowing victims and steal their personal information, including their cell phone numbers and bank account details.

These scams netted criminals $68 million in 2021 alone, the FBI said, and it received more than 1,611 complaints. From 2018 to 2020, the FBI reports, victims suffered $12 million in losses.

PHOTO: A hooded person uses a mobile phone.
A hooded person uses a mobile phone.
Wee Dezign/Shutterstock

Criminals are able to obtain an individual's SIM card through phishing tactics by pretending to be the victim's mobile carrier, according to the FBI.

"Once the SIM is swapped, the victim's calls, texts, and other data are diverted to the criminal's device," the FBI said. "This access allows criminals to send 'Forgot Password' or 'Account Recovery' requests to the victim's email and other online accounts associated with the victim's mobile telephone number."

Alarmingly, "the criminal uses the codes to login and reset passwords, gaining control of online accounts associated with the victim's phone profile," the FBI said.

The FBI urged the public to be aware of suspicious emails and not to advertise financial ownership in cryptocurrency or other financial assets.