Three individuals, including two teens, have been charged for their alleged roles in a wide-ranging Twitter hack that compromised the accounts of presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, former US president Barack Obama, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and other prominent figures and celebrities in order to promote a bitcoin scam, authorities announced Friday.
Florida prosecutors said Graham Ivan Clark, 17, of Tampa, was the “mastermind” of the July 15 hack and the teen is facing 30 felony charges, including 10 counts of fraudulent use of personal information and 17 counts of communications fraud. Clark was arrested early Friday, according to the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s office.
In addition to Clark, federal authorities in the Northern District of California also charged Mason Sheppard, 19, of Bognor Regis in the United Kingdom, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and the intentional access of a protected computer. Twenty-two-year-old Nima Fazeli, of Orlando, was charged with one count of aiding and abetting the intentional access of a protected computer in connection to the scam.
“These crimes were perpetrated using the names of famous people and celebrities, but they’re not the primary victims here. This ‘Bit-Con’ was designed to steal money from regular Americans from all over the country, including here in Florida,” State Attorney Andrew Warren said in a statement announcing the charges against Clark. “This massive fraud was orchestrated right here in our backyard, and we will not stand for that.”
Fazeli was arrested Friday and released to home confinement following a court appearance in Florida, according to Abraham Simmons, a spokesperson for the Northern District of California US Attorney’s Office. No arrest information was available for Sheppard.
It was unclear whether Clark is also facing federal charges. Federal prosecutors did not identify him in a statement about the charges, noting that “juvenile proceedings in federal court are sealed to protect the identity of the juvenile,” and that the federal government had referred the juvenile to Warren’s office.
Simmons told BuzzFeed News he could not comment on the issue..
According to prosecutors, the perpetrators of the hack received more than $100,000 in Bitcoin as a result of the scam, which involved hacking the accounts of Obama, Biden, Musk, and other prominent figures and celebrities and then posting tweets from their accounts, saying that they would double any bitcoin payments sent to the same bitcoin wallet.
Hacked accounts pinned the tweets promoting the giveaway scam to the top of their profiles or retweeted the posts. Other accounts that were hit included rappers Wiz Khalifa and the late XXXTentacion; boxer Floyd Mayweather; and billionaires Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, and Warren Buffett.
In response to the security threat, Twitter prevented many verified accounts from tweeting for the rest of the day, though the accounts that were affected were still able to like, retweet, and send direct messages.
According to Twitter, the hackers gained access to the social media company’s internal network and internal support tools by targeting “a small number of employees through a phone spear phishing attack.” They then used the employee’s credentials to target 130 accounts, “ultimately Tweeting from 45, accessing the DM inbox of 36, and downloading the Twitter Data of 7.”
“We appreciate the swift actions of law enforcement in this investigation and will continue to cooperate as the case progresses,” Twitter’s communications team tweeted Friday. “For our part, we are focused on being transparent and providing updates regularly.”