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12 men accused of operating "highly organized" cellphone theft ring in downtown Minneapolis

MINNEAPOLIS – Investigators say thieves worked together to steal phones from people in downtown Minneapolis, then used apps to take hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

“You feel very violated when someone is going through your phone,” Minneapolis resident Kory said.

 He believes he was a victim of an elaborate cellphone theft ring that targeted dozens of victims across the city over the span of a year. He said his iPhone was stolen while he was out with friends at The Saloon in downtown Minneapolis in January.

“Before I knew it my phone was gone and he had locked me out of everything, and had venomed and stolen from my crypto currencies,” he said.

They drained $15,000 from his apps, which his bank eventually covered.

“The fact they had gotten into my accounts, it was very stressful,” he said.

He wasn’t alone. Victims across downtown Minneapolis and Dinkytown were targeted in the scene. On Tuesday, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office charged 12 people for their involvement.

According to charging documents, most victims were targeted as they left bars while waiting for a ride. Sometimes the suspects were aggressive and left the victims with injuries. Other times they were friendly and asked to borrow their phone or add them on social media. In both cases, they would make sure the victim unlocked their phone, prosecutors said.

Investigators said they transferred cash and crypto currency to themselves or others in the organization using mobile apps like Venmo, Zelle and Coinbase. Total losses from more than 40 victims topped $300,000, they said.

The stolen phones would then be given to a man known as “The iPhone Man” – Zhongshuang Su, who would sell stolen phones locally and overseas.

“Number one, don’t give your phone to strangers, don’t give it to them unlocked, or at the very least take advantage of a new feature in Apple’s IOS,” Security Expert Mark Lanterman said.

Lanterman recommends utilizing a feature found under iPhone settings, Screen Time, and Change Screen Time Password. It allows users to set additional passwords for various apps so if the phone is stolen, there’s an added layer of protection.

“Thirty seconds of prevention will save you hours after the fact,” Lanterman said.

If convicted, each member of the organization could pay large fines and spend up to 20 years in jail.

Source: CBS Minnesota

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