Hawaii 11th grader accused in sophisticated nationwide hacking scam faces felony charges

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Updated: Feb. 4, 2021 at 6:29 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The teen suspect in a nationwide cell phone hacking scheme was arrested in Aina Haina on Wednesday morning and now faces three felony charges.

HPD sources say he’s just 16 years old and in the 11th grade.

Tulsa TV meteorologist Sawyer Wells is among those who were victimized.

He said by the time he realized he’d been scammed, a hacker had tried to steal $33,000 from his bank account by accessing information on his cell phone.

It all started last March, and Wells says the con couldn’t have come at a worse time.

“I was going into work,” Wells said. “We had severe storms and I noticed my phone had no signal.”

He figured out his SIM card wasn’t working. It wasn’t until later he linked the phone’s failure to an alert he’d gotten the night before from his bank saying someone had attempted to access his account.

“That’s when I saw there had been multiple attempted withdraws anywhere between $15,000 to $20,000,” Wells said.

The con is called a SIM swap.

The Better Business Bureau says its a sophisticated scam that’s happening more often.

“SIM swapping is where they get pertinent information about you and they contact your cell phone carrier,” said BBB communications specialist Roseann Freitas.

“They get them to change the contact information. So now they have access to your phone.”

Wells said the scammer figured out a way to get around his two-factor authentication.

“He had my phone number,” he said. “And at that time the way to get into that account is you would get sent a code anytime you try to log in. He got that code and changed everything.”

Police sources say the 11th grade suspect had well over a dozen victims across the country.

In November, a search of the boy’s Aina Haina home led to multiple phones, SIM cards and computers taken as evidence.

The Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office confirmed it has charged a juvenile with three felonies, including first-degree conspiracy to commit unauthorized computer access, first-degree unauthorized computer access, and first-degree attempted theft.

Wells said he was shocked to hear a teenager was charged.

“My jaw was on the floor,” he said.

Although it took months to get full access to his hacked accounts he didn’t lose any money because he alerted the bank right away.

On Wednesday, he told police he’ll press charges.

“There are consequences to your actions,” Wells said. “Everybody makes mistakes but this is one of those, it’s not a little mistake.”

The felonies could bring up to 20 years in prison but because the suspect is a juvenile the harshest sentence he’s likely to receive is incarceration until his 19th birthday.

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