British police arrest gang for hacking US celebrities' cellphones

LONDON (AFP) – Eight men have been arrested in Britain and could face extradition to the United States after allegedly hacking the mobile phones of US celebrities to steal money and personal information, British police said on Tuesday (Feb 9).

The men were arrested in England and Scotland after a joint investigation by law enforcement on both sides of the Atlantic into a series of “SIM swapping attacks” last year, Britain’s National Crime Agency said in a statement.

The victims included well-known social media influencers, sports stars and musicians, the statement said, without identifying them.

The detainees face prosecution for computer crimes, fraud and money-laundering, as well as potential extradition to the US, according to Paul Creffield, head of operations in the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit.

“As well as causing a lot of distress and disruption, we know they stole large sums from their victims, from either their bank accounts or bitcoin wallets,” he said.

SIM swapping involves cyber criminals taking over a victim’s number by deactivating their phone’s SIM card and reassigning the number to their own device.

Corrupt employees at the mobile company can be complicit, but often the phone’s owner has unwittingly downloaded virus-ridden files on a text message.

Michael D’Ambrosio, assistant director of the US Secret Service Office of Investigations, said: “The Secret Service and our law enforcement partners remain ready to combat transnational crimes and to hold offenders accountable.”

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