LOS ANGELES – A downtown Los Angeles man was sentenced today to 96 months in federal prison for committing a series of frauds, including one in which he “SIM swapped” victims – one of them a social media influencer – to hijack their Instagram accounts to unlawfully obtain money.
Amir Hossein Golshan, 25, was sentenced by United States District Judge Otis D. Wright II, who also ordered him to pay $1,218,526 in restitution. At today’s hearing, Judge Wright said Golshan’s crimes went “beyond just money,” and that they showed a “wanton cruelty” that caused the victims to live in a state of “constant fear and worry.”
Golshan on July 19 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 June 2023 after he was found to have violated the terms of his pretrial release.
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.
“[Golshan’s] crimes demonstrate an utter lack of respect for the law and basic human dignity,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “He showed little remorse for his victims or being caught during his years of crime, believing that he could hide behind the anonymity of online screennames or VPNs, and that his victims – who were on the other side of the computer – would never find him. Indeed, defendant continued to commit these crimes, becoming more sophisticated and brazen in his actions, up until the FBI arrested him.”
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.
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 impersonated 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.
The FBI investigated this matter.
Assistant United States Attorney Andrew M. Roach of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section prosecuted this case. Assistant United States Attorney Tara B. Vavere of the Asset Forfeiture and Recovery Section is handling asset forfeiture matters in this case.