The increasing use of an instant money transfer app is driving express kidnappings in the Brazilian city of São Paulo – a crime that now requires no more than a password and a push of a button to rob victims of large sums.
In an interview with BBC News Brazil, Tarcio Severo, an official with the anti-kidnapping unit of the São Paulo police, said law enforcement has seen a rise in express kidnappings in which victims are forced to transfer money via Pix, an instant payment system created by Brazil's central bank that was launched in November of last year.
He said the criminal gangs involved in the robberies can be sophisticated, working in teams. One group carries out the assault, surveilling and attacking the victim, who is often held hostage. The other cell receives the bank information and the money from the Pix transactions.
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According to the BBC, one victim was struck on the head and then tied up. Using her stolen cellphone, the criminals transferred more than $100 thousand reals (about $20,000) in three hours.
Another string of Pix-related robberies in late August involved a gang that targeted rideshare drivers, Globo reported. One driver said he was attacked as he dropped off a couple in the southern part of the city. When the woman got out of the car, the man grabbed the driver while a third person approached with a gun. The gunman demanded the driver transfer 4,000 reals (about $764).
The driver said that he was told to "collaborate" and that "the goal is just the Pix."
"After that, I gave them the password, and they ended up carrying out this transaction," the driver said.
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The Pix money transfer app is not only making for faster express kidnappings, which have long occurred in a number of Latin American cities, but enticing more criminals to take part in the violent trade.
The São Paulo police official said gangs involved in other crimes, such as breaking and entry, are migrating to express kidnappings after "discovering that Pix allows them to transfer a large amount of money in a short period of time."
In the past, this type of express kidnapping took place over the course of a night. Typically, criminals posed as taxi drivers, or hustled targets – often businessmen or travelers – into nearby cars. The victims were then forced to make maximum withdrawals from ATMs. They were often held until midnight, after which a new withdrawal limit takes effect. The process of withdrawals then took place all over again.
In Colombia, the crime became so common that it was given a nickname -- paseo millionario (the millionaire's ride). In Ecuador, a presidential candidate became the target of this extortion tactic while campaigning in 2013.
Another form of express kidnapping sees victims grabbed and then held for a quick ransom payment by their loved ones. These abductions were rampant in the early 2010s in a number of Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and others.
In Brazil, the rise in express kidnappings using Pix has led banks to petition for Pix to change their regulations in order to combat extortion and theft schemes targeted at their customers. Among the requests is the reduction of transfer limits early in the morning. They are also demanding that Pix allow banks to stop transfers of large quantities of money if they do not match the spending habits of their customers.