Convenience at a cost: Mother warns about crooks using payment apps to drain your accounts

ATLANTA — A grieving mother has a warning for anyone who uses payment apps like Venmo and PayPal on their cellphone: criminals are using deadly tactics to steal your money

Channel 2′s Karyn Greer spoke to the woman whose son was drugged and murdered, and his accounts were emptied all with his cellphone.

We have probably all sent a text and seen it has been read but received no response. For mother Linda Clary, getting no response from her son John was a clear sign something was not right.

“Like, you would send a text message and it would say, ‘Read.’ And you kept doing this. But then John never responded. I mean, never answered the phone,” Clary said.

John Umberger, a political consultant with ties to Atlanta, disappeared in May 2022 during Memorial Day weekend after a night out at a gay nightclub in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen.

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“He, unfortunately, went out on his own, and that’s where he encountered these bad people,” Clary said.

When his body was found days later, his cellphone and credit cards were missing and more than $22,000 had been transferred out of his accounts through apps like Venmo and PayPal.

A combination of fentanyl, cocaine, and other drugs were the cause of death given by the medical examiner.

“So, this concept was presented that John had gone to a club and he had been robbed at the club and had been so depressed and distraught that he came back and took a bunch of drugs. And you know that that just would not have been John’s reaction to someone taking those things from him on any level,” Clary said.

“And as a mother, you knew that, and you were determined that is not the story we are sticking with. And you’re going to search?” Greer asked Clary.

“For the truth and find out what happened,” Clary said.


Eventually, it was discovered a second man, Julio Ramirez, was also a victim of what’s being called the “Roofie Murders.” Three known gang members have been indicted for murder in the second degree.

“The evidence supporting the conspiracy counts demonstrates that the defendants engaged in a concerted and deliberate scheme to harm innocent individuals. Their motive, we allege, was simple: to make money,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said.

Clary wants John’s story to be a cautionary tale to others who store everything on their cellphone.

“If you use Face ID, it allows you to become an easier target,” Clary said.

Atlanta FBI supervisory special agent Joseph Zadik told Greet that convenience oftentimes comes at a cost.

“The biggest thing you can do is limit what you can do through biometrics,” Zadik said. “So, while it’s very convenient for you it will also make it very convenient for the criminal if someone gets your phone or if your phone is lost.”

He said limiting what Face ID or thumbprint enables is key.

“For example, you just access your phone and then you can’t access your banking application. For that, you enter a password,” Zadik said.

And make sure your settings require attention for Face ID. Next, he says to switch from a PIN code to a complex password.

“A lot of times people will shoulder surf you, so if you’re out in a public place, they may look over your shoulder and watch you type in that six-digit passcode, and then when there’s a time when you’re not paying attention, swipe your phone,” Zadik said.

Clary said she will continue to spread awareness

“If I did not do something, John would be haunting me every day until I die,” Clary said.

“I know that’s inconvenient, but what’s more inconvenient, losing everything and having to deal with it, or just having to deal with another device?” Zadik said.

Another way to keep your phone secure is to get a hardware key or token to log into the accounts on your phone.

Channel 2 consumer adviser Clark Howard spoke with a security expert about those devices earlier this year. CLICK HERE to see his report.


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