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Massachusetts man’s phone number hijacked, thousands of dollars stolen

By Ben Simmoneau

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    MERRIMAC, Massachusetts (WCVB) — People keep their whole lives in their cellphones — emails, photos, finances — and a Massachusetts man found out just how vulnerable a person can become if someone is able to get control of their phone number. It’s called “SIM swapping,” and it can be disastrous.

Steve Hogan was working from home on Jan. 20, a Friday, when he started getting suspicious text messages from Verizon saying his phone line was being transferred to a new device.

“I texted my wife Lori and I said, ‘Was this you? It seems strange.’ She said, ‘No,'” he said.

Hogan was in the midst of a work call, but by the time it was over, his phone would no longer work and thousands of dollars had been stolen from his bank account.

He said it happened “super fast.”

“Like light speed,” Hogan added.

Little did Hogan know, police said someone was posing as him at a Verizon store in Pennsylvania while trying to buy a new phone on his account and also move Hogan’s phone number to a phone they brought with them.

It’s called “SIM swapping” or “SIM hijacking,” and is yet another way for criminals to get into your accounts. Once the suspect had control of Hogan’s phone number, they were able to use it to retrieve his banking username, reset the password and then withdraw nearly $6,000.

“It was less than an hour,” Hogan said. “I was absolutely stunned. I never thought it would be possible.”

After locking down his bank account, Hogan took a critically important step: going to police in Merrimac to report the theft.

“You should definitely report it to your local police department,” said Merrimac Police Chief Eric Shears. “Get them to write a report and start to help you look at this.”

Shears said going to police serves two purposes: It can help you get refunded for any fraudulent activity — in this case with Hogan’s bank and Verizon — but it also gives police a chance to catch the thief.

“If you report it, and the police are able to do a little bit of work and get a good lead, we can bring them to conclusion and stop some of this stuff,” Shears said. “It’s rampant. This stuff happens all the time everywhere.”

Using surveillance footage from Verizon and the bank, a Merrimac police detective was able to isolate a suspect and put out a law enforcement request for identification.

A few days later, on Jan. 25, police said that suspect, Daniel Eldridge, was arrested at a Verizon store in Pennsylvania trying to access another customer’s account. Eldridge is now in custody in Massachusetts awaiting trial.

“When it happens, it’s so invasive. It’s so fast,” Hogan said. “Don’t believe it can’t happen to you.”

Verizon did not comment on Hogan’s case, but the company says if you get a text about your SIM being moved you should call them right away — and that goes for any cell phone provider. Verizon says even if your phone becomes disabled due to the loss of the SIM, you can still call them at *611.

Both Verizon and the Hogans’ bank have made the couple whole.

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