Cell phone buying machine ban moves forward in PA

The city has seen an in­crease in cell phone thefts. A state bill to ban ma­chines which pur­chase old cell phones is mov­ing for­ward on the grounds they of­fer phone thieves a quick pay­ment.

A bill that out­laws auto­mated cell phone pur­chas­ing ma­chines like two in Phil­adelphia was voted fa­vor­ably out of com­mit­tee Oct. 24.

But be­fore call­ing Bill 130693 for fi­nal pas­sage, its au­thor, Coun­cil­wo­man Blondell Reyn­olds Brown, wants to form a task force with rep­res­ent­at­ives of the Po­lice De­part­ment, the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice and SEPTA to make sure the city will do all it can to re­duce mo­bile phone thefts, which she called the city’s No. 1 crime.

The River Wards Crime Watch re­por­ted in Septem­ber a sig­ni­fic­ant in­crease in phone thefts, stat­ing on its web­site that “crim­in­als are so brazen to snatch the phones right out of people’s hands.”

The Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment also re­por­ted in Oc­to­ber that it was look­ing to identi­fy two sus­pects for theft of cell phones at a T Mo­bile store in Fishtown, at 2439 Ara­mingo Ave.

Capt. Frank Palumbo, com­mand­er of the 2nd Po­lice Dis­trict, said small elec­tron­ics rep­res­ent easy — and big — scores for crim­in­als. 

Bal­timore’s City Coun­cil banned the ma­chines in Septem­ber, claim­ing they re­ward phone thieves with easy-to-get cash.

Eco­ATM rep­res­ent­at­ives denied that Oct. 24 in testi­mony be­fore coun­cil’s Com­mit­tee on Pub­lic Safety and said only a very small num­ber of devices its ma­chines have pur­chased were found to be stolen.

There have been more than 5,800 thefts in­volving mo­bile phones in Phil­adelphia so far this year, Po­lice De­part­ment ad­viser Fran­cis Healy told the com­mit­tee. That stat­ist­ic has been on the rise since 2010, he said.   

Ry­an Kuder, a spokes­man for San Diego-based eco­ATM, claimed, however, that his com­pany ac­tu­ally is in good po­s­i­tion to de­ter smart­phone thefts be­cause an em­ploy­ee mon­it­ors each trans­ac­tion and be­cause the com­pany keeps re­cords of who sells what to its ma­chines and shares that in­form­a­tion with law en­force­ment.

The As­so­ci­ated Press re­por­ted earli­er this year that 1.6 mil­lion smart­phones were stolen in 2012 and that one out of three rob­ber­ies na­tion­wide in­volves smart­phones. New York At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Schnei­der­m­an told the AP that New York state last year ex­per­i­enced a 40 per­cent spike in cell phone thefts. He ad­ded that stolen cell phones na­tion­wide cost con­sumers more than $30 bil­lion last year.

Kuder stated his com­pany’s ma­chines aren’t likely to be used by rob­bers who want to ex­change stolen phones for ready cash.

“A per­son on the eco­ATM team ap­proves every trans­ac­tion at every eco­ATM to com­bat fraud­u­lent sales,” Kuder said in an email. “We check for val­id ID, make sure the per­son stand­ing in front of the kiosk is who they say they are, take mul­tiple pho­to­graphs of the seller, scan the seller’s ID and col­lect their thum­b­prints. We fully com­ply with all rel­ev­ant laws and reg­u­la­tions wherever we op­er­ate.”

Kuder said the com­pany ex­ceeds leg­al re­quire­ments by hold­ing all devices for 30 days and by col­lect­ing and re­port­ing more de­tailed in­form­a­tion than the law re­quires.

“With all these se­cur­ity fea­tures, thieves tend to avoid eco­ATM,” Kuder con­tin­ued. 

The com­pany has re­cycled more than a mil­lion devices in its 650 eco­ATM kiosks na­tion­wide, he said, and only a very small per­cent­age of the phones the com­pany col­lects are re­por­ted stolen, Kuder stated.

“If a thief does try to slip in a stolen phone, we co­oper­ate fully with loc­al po­lice,” he ad­ded. “We also re­turn the phone to the vic­tim, free of charge.”

The com­pany has had its two ma­chines in Frank­lin Mills since Au­gust 2012, Kuder said. Even if Phil­adelphia does out­law auto­mated pur­chas­ing ma­chines, that doesn’t mean they won’t be avail­able in the sub­urbs. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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