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Instagram hijacking scheme earns Michigan man years in prison


A 25-year-old suspect was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for conducting SIM-swapping attacks and stealing Instagram accounts.

A series of SIM-swapping schemes allowed 25-year-old Anthony Joseph Carlson and his accomplices to take control of online accounts and steal over $25,000.

In a SIM swapping attack, a threat actor convinces the cell telecommunications provider to reassign the victims' cell phones to a new phone controlled by the attacker. After hijacking a victim's phone service, the fraudster receives communications intended for the victim, including password reset codes. It is especially dangerous if the victim relies on SIM-based multi-factor authentication.

Carlson participated in SIM-swapping schemes to gain access to emails, as well as financial and social media accounts, to steal cryptocurrency.

Carlson also conducted a phishing scheme to hijack and monetize valuable Instagram accounts. According to the Department of Justice (DoJ), he sold stolen Instagram accounts, that way defrauding victims of over $93,000.

"As a result of a separate phishing scheme – in which Carlson sent emails purporting to be from a legitimate source to induce victims to reveal information, including personally identifying information and passwords – he was able to gain control of valuable Instagram accounts with large numbers of followers," DoJ said.

The fraudster told victims he wanted to purchase advertising on their pages and convinced them to download purported analytics software, tricking victims into providing their login credentials.

"Carlson also obtained stolen Instagram accounts from others and then re-sold them to other victims for thousands of dollars. In another scheme, Carlson collected money for advertising on Instagram accounts he did not actually control," DoJ said.

The defendant was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.


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