Robberies in which criminals demand access to bank, payment apps to steal money are rising: police

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Friday, February 23, 2024
Robbers demanding access to bank, payment apps to steal money on rise
Armed robbers in Chicago aren't just taking people's phones, but also demanding they give access to bank and payment apps to steal their money.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Robberies involving criminals stealing money from people's payment apps are on the rise.

In the case of one Chicago victim, who was robbed at gunpoint, said even though her robbery was caught on camera, she still had to reach out to the I-Team to help get her money back from the bank.

"All three of them armed with guns, masks, hooded, demanding all of our stuff. One of them started chasing my friend," said Victoria Karwowski. "They were all holding their guns up to me, telling me to give them my passcode to my phone."

After they took her phone, the armed robbers forced her to give them the password access to Chase bank app. They then transferred money out of her Chase bank account, using the digital payment network Zelle.

"They sent themselves all the money in my account," she said.

Fortunately, neither Karwowski nor her roommate were hurt but the thieves took nearly $1,700.

"It's a very traumatizing experience," Karwowski said. "I was so on edge and so unwell."

READ MORE: How to Keep your smartphone payment apps safe and security if your phone is stolen.

Chase credited her the money while they investigated the case, but within weeks the bank closed the case, stating the transaction was "authorized."

With her police report and video of the robbery, she escalated the case two more times with Chase but lost all of her claims. That's when Karwowski contacted the I-Team, who reached out to Chase and Zelle. Within a few days, Chase sent a refund to Karwowski.

"To have it back and kind of close that chapter altogether, and not having to worry about it anymore, was just so relieving," she said. "I don't think that that would have been able to happen without the I-Team."

Chase told the I-Team, "We're sorry Ms. Karwowski experienced this stressful situation."

Politicians including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Manhattan's District Attorney Alvin Bragg are calling for banks and mobile payment services like Zelle, PayPal and Cash App, to better protect customers. They want more security measures such as imposing limits on transactions, requiring two-step verification, and better computer monitoring services that could catch the fraud faster.

RELATED: Group robs woman in Jefferson Park, returns to beat her after no one stops to help

Chicago Police Department data, analyzed by the I-Team, shows that these types of robberies have increased. According to CPD data, mobile payment services were used in 110 robberies in 2021. That number jumped to 171 in 2022. Last year the number of these robberies jumped to 271.

In late January, a Jefferson Park woman was brutally robbed and beaten at gunpoint, as attackers assaulted her trying to get banking information on her phone.

MORE COVERAGE: Mother describes being attacked twice, minutes apart, in Jefferson Park: EXCLUSIVE

In many cases authorities say there is little people can do to prevent these crimes. They do suggest you avoid having your phone out when outside at night, limit the amount money that's in your checking account and delete your bank app when not in use.

"Use the common sense approach and give up whatever they want. That's material, and try to get away safely if you can," said Ali Sadiq, FBI Special Agent in their Cybercrimes Division.

Several of the banking apps said that safety and security are top priority, and that users should enable tools like facial ID recognition and multi-factor authentication. That may not stop a robbery, but it does add another layer of protection.

Zelle said participating banks "are required to reimburse consumers for confirmed fraud claims" including thefts like Karwowski's.

"I would love to put this behind me and the only way I could do that is if they just like had a little bit of empathy. Right? A little bit of humanity. And that's really like, All I ask is, is this is happening more and more," she said.

In some cases, police may be able to trace criminals through bank accounts.

Chicago police said that the suspects who robbed Karwowski have not been caught.

Payment app companies and police say you should always report these incidents to police and the bank so the bank can begin a dispute and you can get your money back. You also have to be aware of payment app scams where criminals can fool you into sending them money on a payment app. Only send money to people you know and trust.