Thieves ask to use your phone, steal cash through money sharing apps

A scam, preying on people's kindness, is still claiming victims in the Queen City.

Tech savvy thieves are stealing hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars right in front of their victims - not from their wallet but from their phone.

"I decided to be nice and let him borrow my phone," said IT analyst Billy Phitakoun. 

Phitakoun was sitting down for lunch, inside the lobby of 400 South Tryon in Uptown, when a man approached him.

"He just approaches me and asks if he could borrow my phone to text a friend," said Phitakoun. "Because  his phone was off."

For two minutes - an "unusually long" time to text, Phitakoun thought - the thief used his phone to "text" a friend, he said. What he was actually doing was opening up this Venmo cash app and wiring $500 to an accomplice, according to a transaction receipt.   

"He handed me my phone and told me he was going to meet his friend outside," said Phitakoun. "He thanked me."

After he left, he received an email from Venmo notifying him of the electronic payment. It's a scam FOX 46 has reported on before. Police are investigating similar incidents occurring in South End, Mount Holly and now Uptown.

"I'm not going to let strangers take my phone anymore," said Phitakoun. "Sorry to any future strangers that might really need my help but I'm going to be more safe than sorry going forward."

Experts recommend password protecting any cash or banking apps and never handing over your phone. Instead, if someone says they need to make a call or text, you can offer to do it for them and put the call on speaker. 

Phitakoun filed a police report with CMPD. He says the incident was captured by the building's surveillance cameras. That video, he says, will be turned over to police. 

"He was able to use his charisma on me and scam me out of my money," said Phitakoun. "He could probably do something a lot more positive with [his personality] instead of doing something that could land him in jail."