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Criminal gangs who ‘shoulder-surf’ pin numbers steal ‘20 smartphones a day’

<span>Police and some banks have warned of a rise in the number of cases where a criminal watches over someone’s shoulder as they key in their phone pin or password and then steals the handset.</span><span>Photograph: Lauren Hurley/PA</span>
Police and some banks have warned of a rise in the number of cases where a criminal watches over someone’s shoulder as they key in their phone pin or password and then steals the handset.Photograph: Lauren Hurley/PA

Criminal gang members who “shoulder-surf” smartphone users for their pin number are stealing as many as 20 handsets each a day and then raiding their victims’ bank accounts, it has been claimed.

In an interview on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Tuesday, a criminal “gang leader” suggested that in the case of one victim it took just half an hour to gain access to their banking apps and steal tens of thousands of pounds.

The police and some banks have warned of a rise in the number of cases where a criminal watches over someone’s shoulder as they key in their phone pin or password and then steals the handset, usually by snatching it or taking it from their pocket or bag.

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They then access the phone and try to break into any financial apps, or search the phone’s notes section for any numbers or passwords.

More than 29 million adults now use mobile banking, according to the trade body UK Finance, which last month revealed that the number of mobile banking fraud cases had leapt by 62% in a year to the highest level ever recorded.

This category of fraud includes cases where a criminal uses “compromised” details to gain access to a customer’s account via a banking app.

The Good Morning Britain package featured businessman Dave Fishwick, who opened a community finance provider dubbed the “Bank of Dave,” interviewing a gang leader calling himself Rich, whose identity is disguised. Rich runs small teams who shoulder-surf people to steal phones for financial gain.

In the interview, Rich said that if he has a team of four or five people working for him, they can bring back “18 to 20 [handsets] per person”. Fishwick asked: “So that’s 80 phones a day?” to which Rich replied: “Yeah”.

The gang leader said the phones were often snatched by someone on a moped or stolen “out of your back pocket in a club or a pub”.

“The boys know now what they’ve got to do – they’ve got to look at certain apps and see if they can change the passwords.”

Asked by Fishwick how much money, on average, they were able to steal from people’s accounts via the apps, Rich replied: “15, 20 grand.” When Fishwick asked: “Per day?”, Rich replied: “Yeah, if I’ve got two teams of four.”

Fishwick also asked Rich: “What’s the most [money] you’ve ever seen come out of a phone? What’s the most in one go?” In reply, Rich said £40,000 to £50,000 “in a half-hour”.

Also due to be featured on the programme was a victim of this type of theft and fraud, describing the impact it had on them.

A Good Morning Britain spokesperson said it hoped the interviews would raise awareness of this growing threat and encourage people to take measures to protect themselves.