Authorities say the 17-year-old boy from Tampa who hacked into the Twitter accounts of Barack Obama, Bull Gates, and many other celebrities, isn’t your ordinary teenager, in fact, his clever attack was deemed “highly sophisticated” and a “magnitude not seen before.”
The name Graham Ivan Clark even sounds smart, smart enough to have collected more than $700,000 in bitcoin, which was later seized by the secret service in April. But three months later, the “mastermind” successfully hacked the twitter accounts of some very high profile people who have millions of followers.
Nima Fazeli, 22, of Orlando and Mason Sheppard, 19, from the United Kingdom were also arrested for their role, and both face federal charges. However, lucky for Clark, who was arrested at his Greater Northdale home, his age protects him from being tried as an adult, as for now, he only faces state charges.
“He’s a 17-year-old kid who apparently just graduated high school,” said State Attorney Andrew Warren of Clark during a Friday news conference.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Clark’s intention was to steal the identities of prominent people and then post messages under their names advising victims to send Bitcoin to accounts he owned. The accounts received over 400 transfers, and in just one day, he made $100,000 in Bitcoin, the state attorney said.
Bitcoin, as a cryptocurrency, is difficult to track and recover if stolen in a scam.
“This defendant lives here in Tampa, he committed the crime here, and he’ll be prosecuted here,” Warren said, adding that Florida law gives prosecutors more flexibility to try minors as adults in financial fraud incidents.
“I want to congratulate our federal law enforcement partners—the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, the FBI, the IRS, and the Secret Service—as well as the Florida Department of Law enforcement. They worked quickly to investigate and identify the perpetrator of a sophisticated and extensive fraud,” Warren said.
When the July 15 hacking took place, Twitter said it was a “coordinated” attack at its employees “with access to internal systems and tools.”
Sheppard, who hacked under the alias “Chaewon,” faces charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and the intentional access of a protected computer. Fazeli, AKA “Rolex,” is facing charges of aiding and abetting the intentional access of a protected computer.
By compromising a twitter employee, Clark was able to gain access to Twitter accounts and to the social media platform’s internal controls. He then sold the log in information of those accounts and used the identities of prominent people to solicit money in the form of Bitcoin, by making promises to send back twice as much. Although once he got the bitcoins, he never did.
“This was a massive fraud orchestrated right here in our own back yard, and we won’t stand for that,” Warren said.
Clark tricked people into thinking he was democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and wrote: “I am giving back to the community. All Bitcoin sent to the address below will be sent back doubled! If you send $1,000, I will send back $2,000. Only doing this for 30 minutes … Enjoy!”
Surely many of you have seen post like this before. Among his high profile list were Biden, Gates, Obama, Jeff Bezos, Mike Bloomberg, Warren Buffet, Kim Kardashian, Wiz Khalifa, Floyd Mayweather, Elon Musk and Kanye West. A handful of companies had their accounts hacked, too, including Apple and Uber. By the end of the ordeal, the three hackers compromised 130 accounts and scammed people out of money.
An internal investigation by Twitter stated that the scheme targeted employees using a phone spear-phishing attack. “We appreciate the swift actions of law enforcement in this investigation and will continue to cooperate as the case progresses,” the company tweeted from its account Friday. “For our part, we are focused on being transparent and providing updates regularly.”
Clark faces 30 charges: 17 counts of felony communications fraud, 10 counts of identity theft, and one count each of aggravated identity theft and hacking and unlawful access to a computer in furtherance of a scheme to defraud. He was being held Friday without bail in the Hillsborough County jail and is expected to make his first court appearance on Saturday.
His mother was unable to be reached for comment.