LOS ANGELES – A Downtown Los Angeles man pleaded guilty today to three felony charges, including that he defrauded victims, one of them a social media influencer, by engaging in “SIM swapping” to hijack their Instagram accounts to unlawfully obtain money.
Amir Hossein Golshan, 24, pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information, one count of wire fraud, and one count of accessing a computer to defraud and obtain value.
Golshan has been in federal custody since last month after he was found to have violated the terms of his pretrial release.
According to his plea agreement, from at least April 2019 to February 2023, Golshan knowingly executed multiple online schemes to defraud hundreds of victims through various online scams and unauthorized intrusions into victims’ digital accounts, including social media account takeovers, Zelle payment fraud, and impersonating Apple support. In total, Golshan’s entire scheme caused approximately $740,000 in losses to hundreds of victims over several years.
SIM swapping and social media account takeovers
“SIM swapping” is the process of fraudulently inducing a carrier to reassign a cell phone number from the legitimate subscriber’s SIM card to a SIM card controlled by another without the legitimate subscriber’s authorization. This allows the fraudster to take control of the victim’s various accounts through two-step authentication text messages sent to a victim’s cell phone.
Golshan’s SIM swapping and social media account takeovers targeted both the account owners and their online friends, duping them into sending him money.
For example, in December 2021, a Los Angeles-based model and influencer with more than 100,000 followers on social media, received a direct message on Instagram from her friend’s account, stating, “Can you do me a favor? What’s your number?” The victim provided her phone number to the person whom she believed was her friend, but who really was Golshan.
Golshan then logged into the victim’s Instagram account without authorization, impersonated the victim to her friends, and requested the victim’s friends send him money through Zelle, PayPal, and other online payment platforms. Several of the victim’s friends sent Golshan money, totaling thousands of dollars, believing they were sending money to the victim.
During the time that Golshan locked the victim out of her accounts, he sent her messages demanding $2,000 for the return of her accounts and threatening to delete her accounts if she did not pay him.
Golshan further admitted to SIM swapping two additional victims in January 2022. For one of these victims, Golshan fraudulently caused the victim’s cell phone number to be SIM swapped to a new cell phone that he controlled. Golshan then reset the passwords to the victim’s social media accounts which allowed him to gain access to the victim’s accounts. He then accessed the victim’s social media accounts – which had her personal photos and videos saved on them. Golshan contacted the victim and demanded that she pay him $5,000 or else he would post her personal videos online.
Zelle merchant fraud
Golshan also fraudulently advertised fake and non-existent Instagram services to individual victims for several hundred dollars each. In August 2019, for example, Golshan falsely represented on Instagram that he could provide a verified Instagram badge for one victim’s teenage daughter in exchange for $300. Golshan knew this statement was false and that only Instagram could provide such a badge. Nevertheless, Golshan induced the victim to send an electronic payment of $300 to him, which he deposited in his bank account.
During Golshan’s SIM swapping and Zelle fraud schemes, Golshan fraudulently received approximately $82,000 in payments from approximately 500 victims, usually in increments of $300 to $500 per victim.
Apple Support fraud and NFT/cryptocurrency theft
Golshan also started to impersonate Apple Support personnel to gain unauthorized access to several victims’ Apple iCloud accounts to steal NFTs, cryptocurrency, and other valuable digital property. Through this conduct, Golshan defrauded five victims of amounts between $2,000 and $389,000 each.
For example, in August 2022, Golshan called a victim from Apple Support’s official telephone number and pretended to be an Apple Support employee. Golshan told the victim that Apple Support wanted to give the victim an advanced security protocol to protect the victim’s iCloud account. Golshan then caused a two-step authentication code to be sent to the victim’s phone.
Through these misrepresentations, Golshan fraudulently induced the victim to tell him this six-digit security code, which allowed Golshan to gain access to the victim’s iCloud account. Golshan then changed the email address on the victim’s iCloud account to an email address that he controlled. Golshan then stole valuable digital property from the victim, including an NFT valued at approximately $319,000 and approximately $70,000 worth of cryptocurrency. Later that same day, defendant sold the stolen NFT for $130,000 in cryptocurrency on a NFT marketplace.
United States District Judge Otis D. Wright II scheduled a November 27 sentencing hearing, at which time Golshan will face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for the wire fraud count, and up to five years in federal prison for each of the computer access counts.
The FBI investigated this matter.
Assistant United States Attorney Andrew M. Roach of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section is prosecuting this case.