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'Bank Jacking' Rises As Gunmen Force People To Unlock Phones

Gunmen are taking advantage of mobile payment and banking apps, forcing people to unlock their phones and send payments, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Once in, the robbers drain victims’ bank accounts. The payoff is often $1,000 or more — a lot more than criminals typically score by just stealing a wallet. In Chicago, the robbers often wear the kinds of masks that have been common since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even when the police can trace where a money transfer ended up from someone’s phone, the victim often can’t identify the assailant. Holdups overall are up more than 25% in Chicago this year through Nov. 26 over last year. According to detectives, these “bank jackings” involving cellphones are a relatively new and growing phenomenon. The number of bank jackings isn’t clear because the Chicago Police Department doesn’t list them as a separate category of robberies.

Millions of Americans use their phones to pay for everything from dinners to vacation rentals using banking apps like Zelle, Venmo and Cash App. Zelle is a digital payments network run by a firm owned by banks that include JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank. Offered by more than 2,100 banks and credit unions, it covers more than 80% of U.S. personal and small business accounts. Users enrolled in the Zelle app can send and request money by adding another person’s phone number or email address, a cash amount and a memo showing what the money is for. In 2022, Zelle users sent 2.3 billion payments totaling more than $629 billion. Other digital payment apps like Venmo and Cash App are operated by tech firms but similarly allow users to transfer money online quickly.


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