Bold crook asks to borrow cell phone, then pays himself with victim's Venmo app

UCCS police investigating student reported crimes that happened on campus
Bold crook asks to borrow cell phone, then pays himself with victim's Venmo app
Posted at 5:00 AM, Mar 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-08 09:33:51-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — If you do banking on your cell phone or use cash apps like Venmo, this warning is for you. In these recent crimes, the suspect looks you in the eye asking you borrow your phone. They hope you'll hand it over so they can "make a quick call", when in reality they're looking for an easy way to pay themselves from your accounts.

"We had never seen this before. In fact, as we started receiving the initial reports we initially doubted the elements of the reports thinking we were missing something, but it turned out it happened to each victim the way it was reported," said University of Colorado Colorado Springs Police Chief Clayton Garner.

In most places now, but especially on a college campus, it doesn't take long to spot someone with a cell phone. Investigators say that's when the suspect moves in and gives a series of reasons why they need to borrow your phone.

"My car broke down down the road. I need to call my brother. I can't find my wife she was supposed to pick me up," explained Garner.

Law enforcement leaders at University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) say unsuspecting victims are handing over their phones, allowing the thief to locate their Venmo app and quickly pay himself with the touch of a button. Using this strategy, investigators say victims have lost money on multiple college campuses and in parts of the city from Colorado Springs to Pueblo.

"How much money was transferred between victims you think?" News5 asked Garner.

"Several thousand. It's that easy. Each victim lost approximately $700," Garner replied.

Students say the news quickly spread about these crimes through a campus-wide alert at UCCS.

"So it's like one of those things that can happen to just about anybody and it's extremely scary," said UCCS student Gwen Hudson. "To look somebody in the eye and for you to take hundreds and thousands of dollars from people... you've got to have some courage there and it's not a good thing."

More than 50 million people in the U.S. use the Venmo payment platform and it's especially popular for college students.

"I feel like having that Venmo because it's kind of like a new modern way of sending money is going to allow more college students to be more vulnerable because that's what they use half the time," said Hudson.

So here is some advice from UCCS Police to help you avoid these cell phone crimes...

"The biggest takeaway from this is protect your phone. Your phone has everything about you and even if you don't have Venmo protect your phone and protect the access to your phone. You can still help people if you are smart about it," said Garner.

After getting an increasing number of reports after the campus-wide alert, UCCS Police were able to identify a suspect they plan to charge with these crimes. In many cases it is nearly impossible to get money back once it is transferred through these apps, but with law enforcement assistance the victims are expected to get their money back.

If you have any additional information about these crimes you can always remain anonymous by calling Pikes Peak Area Crime Stoppers at 634-STOP.

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