A creepy T-Mobile employee stole nude photos of a young Queens woman when she went to the store to trade-in her phone last September, a shocking new lawsuit alleges — as legal experts and advocates fear a rise in what’s been dubbed the modern-day “Peeping Tom.”
Karen Mun, now 24, waited patiently as the employee at the Northern Boulevard store took her device to a closed backroom to see if she was “eligible” for the trade-in but when he emerged, her heart stopped after she caught a glimpse of his phone.
“I saw his photo app open with, like, a bunch of my photos on there,” Mun told The Post, referencing dozens of intimate images of herself that she kept on her device.
“I felt like a part of me was stolen,” she said.
“I wanted to scream.”
Mun, a nail tech born and raised in Flushing, detailed the incident in a lawsuit she filed against T-Mobile on Thursday that alleges the company was negligent in their hiring, training and supervising of staff and created the environment that allowed her privacy to be violated.
The lawsuit alleges that T-Mobile is well aware that employees steal customers’ sensitive data and hasn’t done enough to stop it because Mun’s case is not an isolated incident – it’s happened numerous times in the past.
In November 2015, a T-Mobile employee downloaded a couple’s intimate videos when they went in to upgrade their phone and in June 2017, a worker emailed a customer’s intimate video to himself, the lawsuit says.
In November 2018, a T-Mobile worker played a customer’s intimate video for himself and other store employees in Mays Landing, N.J. and in December 2020, a worker stole a customer’s identity and accessed their bank account in Dartmouth, Mass., the lawsuit states.
News reports reveal a slew of other similar incidents across the country that happened at not just T-Mobile stores, but other retail shops operated by major cell phone providers like AT&T and Verizon.
Many of the stories echo what happened to Mun.
When she first arrived at the store on Sept. 23, the employee told her he needed to hook her phone up to a computer in a backroom to see if she was approved for the trade-in and she obliged, figuring the request was a normal part of the process, according to Mun and the lawsuit.
“What could possibly go wrong?” she remembered thinking.
Some time later, the employee emerged and said he wasn’t able to access her device because it was locked.
“He gave me a piece of paper with a pen, which he prepared from the back, and… said ‘Listen, I need you to write your passcode on this paper for me so I can unlock it in the back and plug it into the computer to see if your phone is approved by the company,’” Mun recalled.
“I was like, all right, that’s true. If my phone’s locked, he can’t plug it into a computer, because you do need to unlock your phone to plug into a computer. So I was like, ‘okay, here’s my passcode.’ He’s a worker, he’s being professional… he’s just doing his job.”
But when Mun spotted her private photos and realized the request was a ruse to steal her naked images, she confronted him and he admitted to taking them, her lawsuit claims.
“I trusted him because I would never think that an employee would, you know, take advantage of their job and do that to someone, it was just so crazy to me,” Mun told The Post.
“Although this has happened, you know, months back, I’m still thinking about it every day. It’s something that keeps me up at night. I’m super anxious. Sometimes… I’ll go outside and I’ll be like, well, what if that person has seen those photos?”
Mun said after the initial incident, she couldn’t sleep, had difficulty working and now suffers from depression and anxiety.
“It’s so embarrassing. Although I am the victim here, I feel like I did something wrong, just by letting this happen to me,” she said.
“It’s really hard to put into words how I feel.”
Andrew Stengel, Mun’s attorney, said there’s likely thousands of other people who’ve been victimized the same way and just aren’t aware.
“It was luck that the guy’s phone screen was facing Karen and the app was open,” Stengel said.
“For every one of Karen and the other people who are victims, there’s probably 100 or 1,000 people who don’t know that their data, intimate images, and financial information was taken. They just don’t know.
“T-Mobile likes to boast about their coverage area when they should focus on properly covering subscribers’ data privacy.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for T-Mobile said the employee who took Mun’s images was “separated” from T-Mobile “immediately” after the incident.
“We take customer privacy very seriously. This is against our policies,” the spokesperson said.
“We are unable to share additional details.”
They declined to answer what measures they’ve taken, if any, to prevent such events from happening again.
While nonconsensual image sharing, sometimes referred to as revenge porn, has long been an issue and is illegal in most states, it’s typically something that happens between intimate partners, not strangers.
Lindsey Song, the co-chair of New York’s Cyber Abuse Task Force and the deputy director of the Courtroom Advocates Project at Sanctuary for Families, said infiltrating a stranger’s personal device is the “next level” of gender based violence and sexual harassment.
“With cell phones and our whole lives being on cell phones and laptops and electronic devices I think it’s unfortunately the next frontier of these things being used to effectuate gender based violence and sexual harassment,” Song said.
“I do think it shows the ease at which these images can be grabbed from someone’s phone or laptop or whatever electronic device they have and transferred without them knowing it.. there’s so many ways with Airdrop and even remote bluetooth file sharing services that wouldn’t leave any kind of trace.”
Dr. Marina Sorochinski, an investigative psychologist who studies behavioral patterns in violent, sexual crimes, likened the act to a modern day “peeping Tom.”
“With these crimes, including the ones that happen in intimate relationships, the medium changes but the basic psychology of it is the same. People use different means to achieve the same kinds of goals: the control, the power and the sexual gratification,” Sorochinski, a professor at St. John’s University, explained.
“It’s just now the offenders are using this kind of modern technology and modern ways and modern media to get the same things. The legal system, the criminal justice system are trying to catch up with what the offenders are now using, again, to commit the same kinds of crimes. It’s not different. It’s just a different mode.”
While the unlawful dissemination of intimate images has been a crime in New York since 2019, Song said officials need to do a better job of enforcing the law and raising awareness that such acts are a crime.
While Mun thought of calling police after the incident, she didn’t, and didn’t realize what had happened to her was a crime until she researched it later on.
Carrie Goldberg, a high-profile attorney whose practice is centered on representing digital sex crime survivors, said Mun’s incident raises a host of terrifying questions about privacy in a digital world.
“These devices break all the time. Our screens crack and we have to get them fixed and if we can’t trust the corporations that fix them, then how do we trust these corporations and expect them to not be accessing the same content remotely?” she questioned.
“We are entrusting them with so much of our personal data whether it’s in the physical device or in the cloud. There needs to be more of a bill of rights. If somebody comes in that store, they should be told, there should be a sign or something saying we would never take this phone out of your eyesight,” she continued.
“There’s no way for a customer to know that something unusual is going on.”
As for Mun, she hopes telling her story can help protect others from being victimized the same way she was.
“I want everybody to know how big of an issue this is. I want to really bring light to this and I want to get justice for other women or men,” said Mun.
“I don’t really have the power to really stop this from happening but I can help it from happening to a lot of other people.”