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Robert Triggs / Android Authority


  • A new trend in Android and iPhone theft across São Paulo is for thieves to steal phones not for resale value but to gain access to victims’ banking information.
  • Apparently, this escalated version of the old “grab and run” scheme has been around since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • It’s not clear how criminals crack security logs on such a massive scale. The main theory currently is a lack of security attention by the owner of the phone.

All over the world, it is easy to find stories of thieves stealing smartphones. Usually stealing is not that laborious: someone runs up to someone walking on the street, takes the phone out of their hand and runs away. The thief then sells the phone to a pawn shop or online reseller site and keeps the profits.

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However, in São Paulo, Brazil, Android and iPhone theft has reached a new level. As reported by the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo (above 9to5Mac) the new method of theft is to grab the phone and then access the victim’s banking apps. Once accessed, the thieves can steal large sums of money and usually earn a lot more than they would just resell the phone.

Android and iPhone theft: a whole new world

According to Folha de S. Paulo, a certain gang in Brazil uses this tactic. It seems to have started around the same time as the pandemic. That would make sense as Brazil’s COVID-19 problems were much worse than some other countries. The gang may have deemed it necessary to escalate their tactics due to the financial crisis.

The thieves target both Android and iPhone users. However, iPhone theft seems to be receiving special attention, possibly due to the wealth differences between Android and iPhone users.

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The big question, however, is how do the thieves access victims’ bank records. In theory, even if the thief grabbed an unlocked phone, he would still need a passcode or biometric security agent to unlock a banking app. It is possible that the thieves have some kind of software system that allows them to crack phones, much like what we have seen from government officials in the United States. It could also be a lack of safety attention from the owner of the phone, or a combination thereof.

The important thing to know here is that you should always need multiple security checks to access your banking apps. Two-factor authentication, fingerprints, face unlocking – please use them all! Losing a phone is one thing; Losing your savings is another.

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