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SIM Swap Attack: What It Is and How to Prevent It

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SIM Swap Attack: What It Is and How to Prevent It


Smartphones and other mobile devices have made it easier for people to access and manage their funds and digital assets. However, new privacy concerns and security challenges arose with the increased over-reliance on smartphones for digital asset management. Bad actors have found new ways to infiltrate digital systems and commit fraud, damaging users financially. The SIM swap attack is one such attack that has become increasingly alarming in crypto security despite the robust cybersecurity measures in place.

In this guide, we’ll explore what a SIM swap attack is, how a SIM swap crypto attack works, how to recognize the signs, and how to prevent one. 

In This Guide:
  • What is a SIM card?
  • What is a SIM swap attack?
  • How does a SIM swap crypto attack work?
  • How to recognize the signs of a SIM swap crypto attack
  • The risks of SIM swap attacks on cryptocurrency users
  • Examples of SIM Swap Crypto Attacks
  • Can you prevent a SIM swap crypto attack?
  • How to prevent SIM swapping hacks?
  • What to do if you are the victim of a SIM swap attack?
  • Frequently asked questions

What is a SIM card?

To understand SIM swap fraud, you must first understand what a SIM card is.

A subscriber identity module, commonly referred to as a SIM, is a small removable card with a circuit-embedded chip that activates calling, texting, and data services on a smartphone device.

A SIM card stores your identifying information and is secured by a personal identification number (PIN). It also stores extensive personal and operational information. Thus, removing your SIM card from one phone and inserting it in another will transfer the SIM card’s mobile services to the new device. While telco companies can also transfer the unique identifiers, they tend to do this in cases where the original SIM card gets lost. Because of this, SIM cards are susceptible to a type of attack known as a SIM swap attack.

What is a SIM swap attack?

A SIM swap attack is a type of cyber attack in which a SIM hacker assumes a victim’s identity and gains access to and control over their phone number. The hackers then use their phone numbers to access their financial or social media accounts. This type of attack is also known as SIM swap fraud or SIM hijacking.

SIM swapping can happen in two ways: a hacker steals your phone and gets access to your SIM card or calls your SIM card carrier and tricks them into activating a SIM card in their possession. Bad actors usually swap SIMs to bypass two-factor authentication (2FA), gaining access to and control over your cryptocurrency assets.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is commonly delivered to users via email, text message, or voice call. While these methods provide users with flexibility, they aren’t immune to all cyber threats. In the case of SIM swap attacks, once a bad actor has access to your phone number, they can intercept messages and calls sent to your phone, including those used for 2FA. This way, they gain illegal access to your bank account, crypto exchanges, and digital wallet.


Historically, hackers have committed SIM swap attacks for monetary reasons. Once a hacker gains unauthorized access to your mobile device and, by extension, your bank accounts, credit card information, and cryptocurrency wallets, they can easily withdraw all your funds and transfer all your digital assets to their accounts.

Although hackers may have other motives, such as coercion for payment to recover your phone number or exploitation of your social media accounts, financial gain is the primary goal. Now that we understand what type of attack SIM swapping is, let’s examine how it works.

How does a SIM swap crypto attack work?

SIM cards utilize distinct user data to connect to a mobile network. SIM swapping occurs when the unique data is transferred to another SIM card, such that the ‘old’ SIM card won’t work, and all carrier-facilitated services like calls, internet, and texts are sent to the new card. 







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To get your phone number, a scammer will start by collecting as much personal identifying information on you as possible before they engage in social engineering. Hackers can gather information about you through malicious malware, phishing emails, or social media research. 

The newly cloned SIM card will function the same way it would if it were in your phone. The scammers then exploit your vulnerable financial accounts, such as your crypto wallets, as they can easily maneuver through security measures like 2FA. They will use your phone number to request and receive one-time authorization codes needed for transactions, log into your online accounts, and steal your digital assets.

While SIM swap attacks have been prevalent in traditional financial institutions, they have since made their way into the blockchain and crypto space, forcing users to add SIM swap fraud to an already growing list of well-known attacks, such as the 51% attacksandwich attack, and Sybil attack.

ChainLinkGod.eth, podcaster and Chainlink’s Community Ambassador: X

The role of social media in SIM swap fraud

Social media is one avenue that scammers use to collect personal information on you.

Scammers can gather information from your social media profiles on various social networks.  If your birth date and mother’s maiden name form part of your security questions, a hacker can get this information from your Facebook profile.

They will then use this information to carry out a SIM swap and transfer your digital assets to their wallets. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that you share as little personal information online as possible.

How to recognize the signs of a SIM swap crypto attack

The signs of a SIM swap crypto attack are usually easy to identify. However, they are only obvious after the attack has been carried out. Some things to look out for include:

  • Account lockouts: The inability to suddenly access your bank accounts, crypto wallets, emails, or social media networks could indicate that hackers have assumed your accounts.
  • Loss of mobile service: A sudden lack of mobile phone service is usually a major sign that a SIM swap has happened, as you won’t have data service and will not be able to make or receive calls and texts. You can always confirm with your service provider if it’s a temporary service issue or if a SIM swap has occurred.
  • Suspicious transactions: Receiving notifications for transactions you didn’t authorize or make can signify a SIM swap attack.
  • Unusual account activity: Noticing posts on your social media channels that you didn’t make could indicate SIM hijacking.
  • Unusual notifications: On the onset of a SIM swap attack, you may receive calls or texts regarding an unexpected change to your carrier’s service. If this occurs, call your network service provider and confirm the changes.

The risks of SIM swap attacks on cryptocurrency users

Existing security measures, like zero-trust architecture, that aim to mitigate security risks in the crypto space haven’t prevented scammers from developing new crypto scamming techniques.

SIM swap attacks, for example, pose a significant threat to the security of crypto exchanges and wallets because of the coins and tokens stored in them. Many crypto exchanges and wallets rely heavily on SMS-based 2FA to confirm transactions. Thus, a SIM swap attack gives hackers access to a victim’s crypto exchange or wallet and transfers their digital assets.

Additionally, SIM swap attacks can give hackers access to a victim’s email account, which they can use to change settings, reset passwords, and compromise other associated accounts. They can then change the sign-in details of a victim’s crypto exchange or wallet and take complete control of them and the funds in them.


Examples of SIM Swap Crypto Attacks

Below are some known cases of SIM swap crypto attacks that have taken place: SIM Swap Attacks

A few users of the decentralized social media platform, fell victim to several SIM swap attacks in October 2023. A single scammer, unearthed by ZachXBT, stole $385,000 worth of Ether after SIM swapping four separate users.

Michael Terpin

In 2018, Michael Terpin, an entrepreneur and blockchain technology expert, became a victim of a SIM swap attack carried out by 15-year-old Ellis Pinksy. The SIM swap attack saw Terpin lose $23 million of digital assets. He later sued everyone involved in the attack, including his network carrier, AT&T.

Although he lost the case against AT$T, Terpin filed more lawsuits, including one against Pinksy after turning 18 in 2020. It’s reported that Pinksy was just a facade of a large social engineering hacking gang that used minors and telecommunication workers to carry out SIM swap frauds on selected targets. 


Vitalik Buterin’s X (formerly Twitter) account hack

On Sep. 9, 2023, hackers successfully attempted a SIM swap attack that gave them access to Ethereum’s co-founder Vitalik Buterin’s X account. They then posted a link asking users to claim a free NFT offered by Buterin. The link led users to a malicious site that promised them a stake in an NFT. It further mentioned the project was created in partnership with Consensys.

How to prevent SIM swapping hacks?

There are various ways that you can prevent SIM-swapping hacks. These methods include:

1. Avoid accidentally doxxing yourself

Doxxing is sharing personal identifying information on the internet, usually with malicious intent. Avoid sharing unnecessary personal identifying information online, as hackers could collect it and use social engineering to carry out SIM swaps and steal your crypto assets.

2. Don’t use your phone number as a sign-in and recovery option

Various online platforms initially used phone numbers for users to sign into their websites. While emails have become popular, some websites still allow users to sign up and sign in using their phone numbers. For such platforms, you should sign in using an email instead of a phone number. Linking an online account to your phone number makes it easy for hackers to swap your SIM card.

3. Use multi-factor authentication

Instead, use authenticator apps like Google or Microsoft authenticator apps as they are less risky. Always use multiple authentication methods to keep your accounts safe and prevent SIM-swapping hacks.

You can use various multi-factor authentication (MFA) methods. You can choose from authenticator apps, biometrics, email-based authentication, hardware tokens, or text-based authentication. While email and text-based authentication are convenient, they pose a huge risk in the event of a successful SIM swap attack. 

SIM swap attacks are troubling because bad actors can gain personally identifying information about you and use that to steal your crypto assets. Always ensure that you take the necessary measures to prevent falling victim to a SIM swap attack.

What to do if you are the victim of a SIM swap attack?

While you can take the above measures to minimize and possibly prevent a SIM swap attack, there’s no guarantee that these methods will always work. Moreover, a SIM swap can happen to literally anyone. You must act fast if you suspect your SIM card has been swapped. The first thing you need to do is contact your service provider. The most obvious sign is usually the inability to make and receive calls or send and receive texts.

Calling your service provider can confirm whether it’s a network issue or if a SIM swapping has happened. If indeed you have been hacked, ask your service provider to temporarily deactivate your phone number or return it to your original SIM card. If you plan to take legal action, you can also file a complaint with the law authorities. Next, work on securing your bank accounts and crypto wallets. Delete your phone number from all bank and crypto accounts and disable 2FA using your mobile number. Request to freeze the accounts and ask the service providers to reverse the transactions you didn’t authorize. Also, change any passwords to accounts that haven’t been tampered with.


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