https://www.nbcnews.com/nbc-out/out-news/patrons-nyc-gay-bar-incapacitated-robbed-thousands-facial-recognition-rcna68842

Three men who visited a New York City gay bar were robbed of thousands of dollars using facial recognition access on their phones, the New York Police Department confirmed on Thursday.

The three men, who were in their late 30s and 40s, visited a Chelsea gay leather bar, The Eagle NYC, on separate nights in October and November and were each robbed of $1,000 to $5,000, according to the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of public information. 

No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing, authorities said.

Police believe the criminals used facial recognition to access the victims’ phones and funds once they were incapacitated, according to Capt. Robert Gault of the city’s 10th Precinct, who spoke about the incidents at a police community council meeting last week.  

“What we think is happening with this scheme is they’re being lured away from the club, maybe to say, ‘Hey, you wanna come with me? I got some good drugs,’ or something like that,’” Gault said. “And then, once they get into a car to do whatever it is that they’re going to do, at some point or another, they don’t know what happened when they wake up.”

A 19-year-old girl and a 42-year-old man who were visiting a New York City bar that is not affiliated with the LGBTQ community, Hotel Chantelle, were also robbed in November and December by the same group of criminals, a police spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson did not share how the authorities were able to link the five incidents to the same group. Gault said that authorities were able to locate the license plate, vehicles of interest and at least one phone number connected to the suspects in the incidents connected to The Eagle NYC. 

Neither The Eagle NYC nor Hotel Chantelle responded to NBC News’ requests for comment. 

In January, The Eagle NYC posted on its Instagram account security footage of two men interacting with bar patrons outside the venue, writing: “Do not take rides from these guys. We are told that they have someone in a car (around nearby street corners) waiting for these guys to bring someone.”

The Eagle NYC added in the since-deleted Instagram post that it “reported the known offenders to appropriate authorities.”

The police spokesperson said the incidents at The Eagle NYC and Hotel Chantelle are not related to any other pattern of robberies happening in the city.

The recent robberies bear a resemblance to the cases, reported by NBC News in November, of Julio Ramirez, 25, a social worker, and John Umberger, 33, a political consultant, who were targeted in similar fashion and suffered unexplained deaths.

On the separate evenings of their deaths, Ramirez and Umberger were seen leaving New York City gay bars with groups of men before their bank accounts were drained of thousands of dollars using facial recognition access to their phones, according to their family members. 

At the time, the NYPD revealed that police and the district attorney’s office were investigating “several incidents where individuals have been victims to either robberies or assault,” in which some but not all are members of the LGBTQ community. 

On Monday, New York City’s Office of Nightlife held a webinar directed at the city’s LGBTQ community, promoting safety precautions for bar patrons in light of the previously reported robberies. Officials advised bar patrons against using facial recognition technology to secure their phones and to alert friends of their whereabouts.

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