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. ••