Two men say they were each robbed of tens of thousands of dollars after they went to the same Atlanta sports bar on different nights by criminals who gained access to their phones.
Charlie Zeanah, 27, and Micah Brown, 34, said they were each robbed of more than $30,000 after they visited Five Paces Inn, in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. Zeanah said he was robbed last week and Brown last year.
The men said they believe the thieves either used their unconscious faces to unlock their iPhones with facial recognition technology or acquired their passcodes without their permission. Zeanah said he knew Brown through mutual friends before the incidents.
Zeanah said he visited Five Paces Inn — a sprawling dive bar with live music — by himself on Saturday after he was separated from friends at a bar across the street. Speaking with an unknown woman was the last thing Zeanah said he remembers before he woke up in the back seat of a moving, unfamiliar car, unable to speak.
“It was like I was physically there, but not mentally,” Zeanah said. “But I was still in my head like, ‘What are we doing?’ but I couldn’t act.”
Zeanah said he vaguely recalls being in the car with two men and a woman — all strangers — who seemed to know one another. Early Saturday, the car stopped in the parking lot of what appeared to be an apartment complex, he said. Some time later, Zeanah said, one of the men pinned him down in the parking lot and began taking his belongings, including his wallet, jewelry and cellphone.
Zeanah, 27, said he next remembers fleeing. He said that for the next hour and a half he stopped in and out of gas stations alongside the same four-lane road in an unfamiliar neighborhood, begging for someone to call him an Uber. Eventually, an unknown man offered Zeanah a ride home at around 6 in the morning.
At home, Zeanah quickly learned that roughly $25,000 had been transferred out of his checking accounts, in some instances using Zelle, as well as out of third-party payment apps, Venmo and CashApp, or other investment accounts. Zeanah said the thieves changed the password on his iCloud account, permanently locking him out and cutting off access to years’ worth of photos and videos.
“It is your whole life,” he said of iCloud accounts. “That one password is the one controller of the entire phone — it is insane.”
Zeanah said he thinks his assailants might have used his unconscious face to unlock his iPhone or possibly coerced him to share his passcode while he was not fully conscious to gain access to it. But he’s unclear exactly what happened.
No arrests have been made. Zeanah filed an online report with Atlanta police Sunday and received an automated reply that said that once the report was approved, he would receive a reply within five business days.
Brown said he never filed a police report but focused instead on trying to get the money back from his banks.
Sgt. Jarius Daugherty, a police spokesperson, said: “We implore anyone who has been a victim of a similar crime to please reach out to 911 and report the incident that has occurred. This is not a report that we would recommend filing online.”
Daugherty added that the police department did not have records of Zeanah’s incident, most likely because the crime he described would not be approved through the department’s online report portal, which is only for reporting less serious situations like lost wallets or minor vehicle damage. Daugherty said that with online reports like Zeanah’s, the department would most likely reach out to suggest calling 911 or visiting a police station. Zeanah said Wednesday that the police had not contacted him.
A representative from Five Paces Inn did not reply to requests for comment.
NBC News has reported on crimes with similarities that led to the deaths of at least seven people in New York City in 2022.
Apple recently released a new security mode to protect user security if bad actors learn users’ passcodes. The setting, known as Stolen Device Protection, requires added security measures to check or change passwords in unfamiliar locations.
Brown said that on June 29, while at Five Paces Inn, he lost track of his iPhone for a significant amount of time and that a friend later found it in the bar’s bathroom. However, Brown said, he never went to the bathroom.
Two days later, Brown said, he was playing the popular mobile phone game Heads Up! on the beach with friends when he started receiving a flood of email notifications about money transfers. In total, Brown said, he lost about $34,000 wired from his bank account and charged to his credit card.
Brown said he is still appealing to Venmo to retrieve the $12,000 stolen from his bank accounts using it.
A spokesperson for PayPal, which also owns Venmo, said in a statement that the companies “take the safety and security of our customers and their information very seriously.”
“We encourage people to report any fraudulent activity to law enforcement and to contact our Customer Support teams directly for assistance in resolving matters,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for Early Warning Services, which runs Zelle, said the company does not comment on individual claims of fraud because of privacy concerns.
“All Zelle Network participating financial institutions are required to reimburse consumers for confirmed fraud claims,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Consumers should contact the local authorities and their bank and credit union if they were a victim of a crime to begin the claims process.”
Brown, who works in sales, said he considers himself “lucky, because some people would be out on the street or whatever” after being robbed like that.
“But still. I work hard, so it makes me very angry,” he said.
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On Tuesday, prosecutors in New York City announced charges against four people accused of stealing credit cards and using stolen phones’ mobile payment apps to buy more than $420,000 worth of luxury items from October 2022 to August 2023. The suspects specifically sought out intoxicated people at Manhattan nightclubs, prosecutors said.
Eight men were accused last year of drugging and robbing roughly three dozen New York City bar and nightclub goers, leading to the deaths of at least seven people. All but one of the suspects pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
Roughly a dozen similar crimes occurred in Austin, Texas, from March 2021 to September 2023, according to information obtained through a public records request.
Zeanah and Brown said they were not aware of the crimes in New York before their encounters.
“This has got to stop, because they’re going to keep on doing it and they’re going to kill people,” Zeanah said. “I should not be alive right now, quite frankly.”
CORRECTION (Feb. 7, 2024, 6:34 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the relationship between Zeanah and Brown. They knew each other through mutual friends; they were not strangers.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com