What would you do to recover control of your social media account? According to a criminal complaint filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Amir Hossein Golshan targeted female Instagram influencers, telling one of his victims that every time “he hacks girls, he makes them show themselves”. The court submission by Special Agent Nicholas Rasch of the Los Angeles Cyber Fraud Task Force continues:
Victim 3 agreed to a video call… On the call, the subject instructed Victim 3 to strip for him. Victim 3 complied while the subject masturbated.
Victim 3 said that she spoke with the subject for about an hour and was trying to be nice to him so that he would give her account back. During their conversation, the subject told Victim 3 that he hacked his neighbor when he lived at the Orsini Apartments in downtown Los Angeles. He said that he was able to get into his neighbor’s bank account and get copies of her medical records. He told Victim 3 that the neighbor ultimately paid him thousands of dollars to get her accounts back.
In the end, the subject gave Victim 3 her Instagram account back for a short period of time. However, the subject continued to text and call Victim 3, including asking her out to dinner. Victim 3 declined and did not respond further. The subject ultimately retook control of Victim 3’s account and deleted her Instagram account.
Golshan was investigated as a serial SIM swap fraudster who seized control of the phone and Instagram accounts of multiple women. His alleged methods involved taking over the phone service of one victim and then using that number to pose as the victim when communicating with her contacts. The aim was to use each seized account as an entry point for hijacking further accounts. He is alleged to have demanded ransoms for the return of accounts. Friends of victims were also asked to send money. One victim reported her friends unwittingly sent Golshan USD15,000.
The FBI determined the location of the person who hijacked the accounts through the IP address used when accounts were accessed. Billing records maintained by Charter Communications provided the address of a 55 year old man whose 24 year old son, Amir Hossein Golshan, lived with him. The victim who was forced to strip then identified Golshan from his photograph. Payments received in Golshan’s accounts matched the amounts extorted from victims.
The criminal culture of SIM swapping and account takeovers has proven to be appealing to young men. They generally seek to make easy money, but young men are interested in other things too. Parents are taking too little responsibility for monitoring how their children use their phones. Schools must do more to educate kids on how to protect themselves whilst also deterring crime by telling the stories of young men who have been caught and punished for their wrongdoing. More resources need to be provided to specialist law enforcement and sentencing needs to be tough in order to send a message to others. These crimes are not victimless, and if they go unpunished then SIM swappers will be tempted to escalate their wrongdoing.
You can read the full text of the complaint and how the FBI tracked and identified Golshan here.