Tampa teen arrested in hack of Twitter accounts of Obama, Bill Gates and others
By JOSH FIALLO AND PETER TALBOT | Tampa Bay Times | Published: July 31, 2020
TAMPA, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — A Tampa teenager was arrested Friday morning after the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice discovered he was behind an extensive Twitter hack, which temporarily gave him access to the accounts of Bill Gates, Barack Obama and many others.
Graham Ivan Clark, 17, was arrested in Tampa where he lives, according to the Hillsborough state attorney’s office.
Clark’s scheme was to steal the identities of prominent people, then post messages in their names directing victims to send Bitcoin to accounts he owned. The state attorney’s office said Friday that he reaped more than $100,000 in Bitcoin in just one day.
As a cryptocurrency, Bitcoin 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,” State Attorney Warren said Friday.
He added that Florida law allows them greater flexibility to try a minor as an adult in a financial fraud case.
“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 added.
The hacking took place on July 15. At the time, Twitter said it was a “coordinated” attack targeting its employees “with access to internal systems and tools.”
Clark faces charges of one count of organized fraud over $50,000, 17 counts of felony communications fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft, 10 counts of identity theft and one count for hacking and unlawful access to a computer in furtherance of a scheme to defraud.
Clark gained access to Twitter accounts and to the internal controls of Twitter by compromising a Twitter employee, Warren said. Clark sold access to those accounts and used the identities of prominent people to solicit money in the form of bitcoin, promising in return he would send back twice as much. Then he collected the bitcoin and never gave back the money he received.
“This was a massive fraud orchestrated right here in our own back yard and we won’t stand for that,” Warren said.
Clark allegedly tricked people into sending money to him with a similar message on the accounts he hacked. For Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, Clark 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!”
Some of the people who were allegedly hacked by Clark included: Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Jeff Bezos, Kanye West, Mike Bloomberg, Wiz Khalifa, Warren Buffet and Floyd Mayweather. A handful of companies had their accounts hacked, too, including Apple and Uber.
In an update on its internal investigation on Thursday, Twitter said that the incident targeted employees using a phone spear-phishing attack, according to a release. At the time, the popular social networking company put a temporary freeze on all “verified” accounts to prevent further fraud from public figures.