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.