GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. (KDVR) – A woman who was shopping at Trader Joe’s in Greenwood Village Saturday says her cell phone was stolen from her shopping cart, but what the thieves got away with was worth much more.
Michelle, who asked to go by her first name only, was shopping at the store on South University Boulevard when she leaned over to grab something from the frozen food section.
“(I) got bumped from the back, turned around and nobody was there. Took about 20 more steps and my phone was gone,” Michelle said.
Her Android phone screen was unlocked so she could see her grocery list, but she said she had it set to lock automatically after one minute.
She thought that the locking system would stop thieves from accessing her information but later learned that was not the case. In about 20 minutes, the thieves circumvented all the locks and multiple verification systems she had set up.
“They were able to change all the passwords, block me out of all my accounts and all of my apps, and I had no recourse at that point,” Michelle said.
In just minutes, they had taken $15,000 using a fraudulent Zelle account.
“(I felt) totally helpless. There was nothing I could do,” she said.
‘If you don’t have physical control, you don’t have any control’
MSU Denver computer science professor Steve Beaty said it can be nearly impossible to stop someone from stealing information off of an unlocked phone, because two-factor authentication and password recovery emails are usually accessible by the thief, as long as the phone is still unlocked.
“We always say if you don’t have physical control, you don’t have any control,” Beaty said. “The downside with the ‘forgot password’ is it sends you an email, which is on your phone, and then it sends you an SMS, which is on your phone. So, if I have your phone, I have your bank account.”
Beaty said in general, it’s safer not to use financial apps, especially if your phone is at risk of falling into someone else’s hands.
“It’s a mixture of how secure is it, or do I believe it to be, and how much risk do I believe it associated with a particular application?” Beaty said. “I’ll also say, the fewer apps the better.”
Michelle told FOX31 that employees at the store told her there were no surveillance cameras. But a Trader Joe’s corporate spokesperson disagreed.
“In Colorado, we have cameras in our stores. We share the footage with the authorities upon request,” Trader Joe’s public relations manager Nakia Rohde said.
FOX31 saw a surveillance camera outside the store but no obvious ones inside.
Michelle is now hoping that a video exists and will help track down the person or people who left her savings accounts high and dry.
Greenwood Village police confirm they received a report of the theft and are investigating, and they told FOX31 they see an increase in these types of thefts during the holidays.