Last week, Motherboard reported that the FBI had arrested Vincent Ramos, CEO of Phantom Secure, a Canadian company that sells modified, hyper-secure cell phones on charges including “conspiracy to distribute narcotics” and “aiding and abetting.”
Phantom offers next-level encryption to its clients, who according to the FBI include a list of seedy characters like Hells Angels, members of the Sinaloa drug cartel, and other “upper echelon members” of international criminal groups.
Now, your typical cell phone company can’t be held responsible for the crimes committed by its customers, but Phantom’s corner isn’t exactly squeaky clean.
The FBI argues that Ramos knew exactly how his phones were being used, and in fact created Phantom for the purpose of facilitating criminal activity.
Better than burners
Phantom promises phones that let users go “off the grid” by removing cameras and microphones from their devices, and installing software called Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) that reroutes messages overseas through private, encrypted networks.
The company also removes GPS navigation and allows users to remotely wipe devices — pretty much all the things you need to commit the perfect digital crime.
So, how much did Ramos know?
To catch Ramos in the act, Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (AKA horse cops) posed as drug traffickers purchasing Phantom devices and asked if the phones would protect them “sending MDMA to Montreal” (the company assured them it was “totally fine”).
They also requested that Phantom wipe a phone under the guise that one of them had been arrested with evidence on the device.
But, the nail in the coffin is a conversation special agents posing as drug traffickers had with Ramos last February, where Ramos assured them that they made devices “specifically for this [drug trafficking] too.”
Oh, they also have an aspirational, crime-themed Instagram
Phantom hasn’t exactly been bashful about their target clientele, posting regularly on a company-linked Instagram (since removed) pictures of their devices with assault rifles, iconic TV criminals, and memes reading “Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead.”
Pro tip for aspiring villains: If you want to get away with murder, don’t post murder-themed memes on social.