June 15, 2024

Aaron Johnson is your worst nightmare if you possess an iPhone. Johnson described to the Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern in prison how, in a matter of seconds, he could take control of your iPhone, lock you out, and obtain access to your banking and finance apps, among other things. He stole hundreds of iPhones as well as thousands of cash. The arrest warrant claims he stole $300,000, but Johnson claims the true amount is between one and two million dollars.

Johnson’s original plan was to take iPhones, erase them, and resell them. He admits that without a job, being homeless, and caring for children, he needed to find a way to get money, and stealing iPhones was it. But he quickly found that there was more money to be made in snatching an iPhone and taking control of the device without the phone’s owner knowing what was going on at first.

Johnson would sit in Minneapolis bars and watch iPhone customers input their six-digit passcodes. He had a way to persuade young college-age boys to cough up their passcode because many of them were inebriated, in addition to monitoring closely for an iPhone user punching in his passcode. He’d approach them and claim to have narcotics, even if he didn’t. He would offer to put his information in their phone, then lock it and either ask for the passcode or hand it back to the owner to see him unlock it.

Obtaining the passcode was one thing, but obtaining custody of the phone necessitated “trickery and violence,” according to his arrest warrant. You were in major trouble after he acquired your phone and passcode. He’d go to Settings, then iCloud, and then reset his password. He would change the stolen passcode to his own number after inputting it. He then disabled Find My iPhone, thereby locking out the device’s real owner.

All iPhone users must safeguard their passcode. Someone with your passcode can change your Apple ID and obtain access to your account. Johnson honed his skills to the point where he could lock someone out of their iPhone and change their passcode and Apple ID in less than five to ten seconds. Johnson could use the passcode to update Face ID so that his own face would unlock the device and grant him access to credentials for banking, securities, and other financial apps.

According to Johnson, once you have your face on Face ID, “you got the key to everything.” He acknowledged to using applications to gain access to victims’ savings and checking accounts, as well as cryptocurrency apps, Venmo, and PayPal. If he couldn’t unlock the phone with his face, he’d open the Notes app, which he discovered to be a goldmine of information. He’d discover passwords and social security numbers there.

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