SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A 22-year-old man from the U.K. was arrested in Spain Wednesday for his role in a July 2020 hacking of prominent Twitter accounts, including those belonging to Joe Biden, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Barack Obama.
Joseph O’Connor is the fourth person charged in connection with the hacking incident and bitcoin scam, which led to a temporary shutdown of the social media network for verified user accounts on July 15, 2020.
O’Connor was arrested in Estepona, Spain, by Spanish national police at the request of U.S. federal authorities Wednesday. He faces multiple charges of conspiracy, hacking, extortion and stalking for both the Twitter breach and separate alleged hacks of Snapchat and TikTok accounts.
According to a criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday, O’Connor connected with a group of hackers last year through the online forum Discord, where they chatted about buying and selling rare usernames. The hackers tricked Twitter employees into providing login credentials. This gave them access to Twitter’s administrative tools, enabling them to take over more than 130 Twitter accounts belonging to celebrities like Kanye West and former President Bill Clinton.
Each account sent out tweets stating, “I’m giving back to the community.” The fraudulent tweets encouraged millions of Twitter followers to send digital money to certain accounts, promising that all bitcoin received “will be sent back doubled.” The scammers obtained more than $100,000 in cryptocurrency through the scheme.
In July last year, authorities arrested a Florida teenager, Graham Ivan Clark, who was 17 years old at the time. He was charged with 30 felony counts and accused of being the mastermind behind the Twitter hack and bitcoin scam. In March, Clark was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty.
Authorities also arrested two others in connection with the hack: Mason Sheppard, a 20-year-old U.K. resident, and Nima Fazeli, a 23-year-old from Orlando.
A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on the arrest Wednesday.
The complaint also accuses O’Connor of crimes related to other hacking incidents and false emergency calls. In August 2020, O’Connor allegedly hacked into an unnamed Portland, Oregon-area victim’s TikTok account and posted a video with text telling users to join certain Discord channels to access the victim’s nude photos. A male voice with a British accent can also be heard in those videos telling users to follow @speaker on Twitter to obtain the victim’s phone “number or nudes. Whatever you want, bro.”
Prosecutors say O’Connor also hacked into another unnamed Los Angeles-area victim’s Snapchat account in June 2019 and sent out videos stating that viewers should add him on Snapchat to see the victim’s “nudes,” adding that he would be “dropping them” on his Snapchat story once he got 20,000 new followers.
O’Connor shared nine nude photos and four nude videos of the victim with another Snapchat user on June 14, 2019, according to evidence cited in the criminal complaint.
The complaint further accuses O’Connor of “swatting” a female 16-year-old victim in the Los Angeles suburb of Garden Grove, California on June 25, 2020. O’Connor allegedly called local police claiming that he caught his wife cheating and planned to kill her and his six children unless he received $50,000. The police dispatched every on-duty officer and two sergeants to the victim’s home.
On that same day, O’Connor also allegedly sent an email posing as the victim and threatening to shoot up a high school in the same town. Additionally, he is accused of posing as the victim on the online platform Reddit and threatening to shoot minorities and plant pipe bombs at two restaurants in Garden Grove. The complaint says O’Connor also called the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, identified himself as the victim and said he was “a transgender” who was “going to blow up the airport in 24 hours” unless he got $60,000.
Prosecutors say the false emergencies occurred a few days after O’Connor started communicating with the 16-year-old victim over Instagram and sent her inappropriate messages of a violent and sexual nature.
O’Connor is charged with ten criminal accounts for conspiracy, hacking, extortion, threatening communications and cyberstalking.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys William Frentzen and Andrew Dawson are prosecuting the case along with Adrienne Rose, assistant chief deputy of Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section for the Justice Department.
U.S. authorities say the United Kingdom National Crime Agency and Spanish National Police assisted in the investigation and arrest of O’Connor.
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