Victims are targeted and then watched from a distance before their handset is stolen. A man had his life’s savings stolen after he was targeted by these criminals and they pickpocketed his phone.
Once the criminal has stolen the handset, they will input the passcode which they may have observed whilst watching the victim typing in before the theft.
They can use software to get into financial and banking apps if they are successful.
Detective Superintendent John Roch, says Detective Superintendent Roch, told BBC Money Box that the technology behind the apps is secure but criminals are getting better at exploiting human behaviour.
26-year-old Jacopo de Simone spoke to Money Box reporter Dan Whitworth about his situation, after he lost more than £22,000.
Mr de Simone’s phone was stolen by a pickpocket on a night out last year.
When he realised his phone was gone he was annoyed and frustrated but thought nothing more of it until the next morning when he logged on to his online banking and discovered all his money had been stolen.
He said: “I was stopped in my tracks a bit, I froze and tried to regain my thoughts.
“I contacted my bank and asked them what I could do and they told me to leave it with them.
“I was completely frightened. It was alarming to see all your hard-earned money taken away from you.
“I was in shock at how it could happen and the fact it happened to me. It felt super unlucky but it’s becoming a much more prevalent threat.”
He explained that it has changed how he uses his financial apps as now diversifies where he leaves all his money. It is not all in one place.
It took Mr de Simone 10 months of going back and forth with his bank to prove his innocence.
Thieves typically “shoulder surf” victims to catch them entering their PIN before stealing the phone either through mugging, pickpocketing or drink spiking.
They then use the PIN to unlock the phone and try the same PIN to access banking apps.
They will also search the phone’s notes section for banking passwords or PINs.
DS John Roch, head of economic crime at the Metropolitan Police in London explained the financial impact of the crime can be enormous.
He said: “It’s only a phone… but if you take that out without the right precautions and protections around it you are essentially walking around with a bag of cash.
“If you start to think of it like that, would you walk into a bar, put it down and turn your back on it? Probably not.”
Episodes of Money Box are available on BBC iPlayer.
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