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Two men say they were each robbed of tens of thousands of dollars after going 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 visiting 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 and Brown said they didn’t know each other before the crimes took place.
Zeanah, who owns an appliance company, said he visited Five Paces Inn — a sprawling dive bar with live music — by himself on Saturday after getting separated from friends at a bar across the street. Speaking with an unknown woman was the last thing Zeanah said he remembers before waking up in the backseat 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. In the early hours of Saturday morning, 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.
The 27-year-old said he next remembers fleeing. He said 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 $30,000 had been transferred out of his Mercury checking account using third-party payment apps, including Zelle, Venmo and CashApp. Zeanah said the suspects 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 believes his assailants also used his unconscious face to unlock his iPhone, or coerced him to share his passcode while he was not fully conscious to gain access to his phone.
No arrests have been made. Zeanah filed an online report with the Atlanta police department on Sunday and received an automated reply that said, once the report is 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.
“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,” Police Sgt. Jarius Daugherty, a spokesperson for the Atlanta Police Department, said. “This is not a report that we would recommend filing online.”
Daugherty added that the 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 likely reach out to suggest calling 911 or visiting a police station. Zeanah said Wednesday that he had not been contacted by the police.
A representative from Five Paces Inn did not return requests for comment.
The incidents come after NBC News 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 is known as Stolen Device Protection and requires added security measures to check or change passwords in unfamiliar locations.
Brown said that on June 29, 2023, 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 wire transfers from his PayPal account. In total, Brown said he lost about $34,000 in funds wired from his bank account and in charges to his credit card.
Brown said he is still appealing to Venmo to retrieve the $12,000 stolen from his bank accounts using the mobile payment service.
Representatives for PayPal and CashApp did not return requests for comment. Venmo — which is a subsidiary of PayPal — did not provide a comment.
A spokesperson for Early Warning Services, which runs Zelle, said the company does not comment on individual claims of fraud due to 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.
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 individuals at Manhattan nightclubs, prosecutors said.
The indictments come after last year’s high-profile arrests of eight men accused 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 have 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.”
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