BOSTON — A 21-year-old Rockport man pleaded guilty Thursday to running a scheme to take over victims’ social media accounts and steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.
Declan Harrington pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, five counts of wire fraud, one count of computer fraud and abuse and one count of aggravated identity theft. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled by the court.
Harrington and co-conspirator Eric Meiggs, 21, of Brockton were charged in November 2019. Meiggs pleaded guilty on April 28, and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 24, 2022.
The two, and other coconspirators, targeted executives of cryptocurrency companies, and others, who likely had significant amounts of cryptocurrency and those who had high value or “OG” (“Original Gangster”) social media account names, prosecutors said. Meiggs and Harrington conspired to hack into, and take control over, these victims’ online accounts so they could obtain things of value, such as cryptocurrency. They used an illegal practice known as “SIM-swapping” and other techniques to access, take control of, and in some cases steal cryptocurrency from, the accounts.
“SIM swapping” attacks involve convincing a victim’s cell phone carrier to reassign the victim’s cell phone number from the SIM card inside the victim’s cell phone to the SIM card inside a cell phone controlled by the cybercriminals. Cybercriminals then pose as the victim with an online account provider and request that the provider send account password-reset links or an authentication code to the SIM-swapped device now controlled by the cybercriminals. The cybercriminals can then reset the victim’s account log-in credentials and use those credentials to access the victim’s account without authorization, or “hack into” the account.
Harrington, Meiggs, and their co-conspirators targeted at least 10 identified victims around the country and stole —or attempted to steal — more than $530,000 in cryptocurrency from these victims, prosecutors say. Meiggs also took control of two victims’ “OG” accounts with social media companies.
If convicted, Harrington faces a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 on the conspiracy charge as well as the charge of computer fraud and abuse. The charge of wire fraud provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. The charge of aggravated identify theft provides for a mandatory sentence of two years in prison to be served consecutive to any other sentence imposed, up to one year of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon U.S. sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.