City Council examines cell-buying kiosks' criminal potential

This undated photograph provided by ecoATM, shows the EcoATM, which is a cupboard-sized machine with a big touch screen and a big metal mouth where you can place your old phone or MP3 player. Its analysis complete, it gives you a quote on the spot, based on what a network of hundreds of electronics-recycling companies are willing to pay for it. If you accept, it spits out cash. (AP Photo/ecoATM)
This undated photograph provided by ecoATM, shows the EcoATM, which is a cupboard-sized machine with a big touch screen and a big metal mouth where you can place your old phone or MP3 player. Its analysis complete, it gives you a quote on the spot, based on what a network of hundreds of electronics-recycling companies are willing to pay for it. If you accept, it spits out cash. (AP Photo/ecoATM) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: October 25, 2013

CITY COUNCIL is taking a close look at fully automated kiosks that dish out cash for used electronic devices - with one eye on Philly's climbing cellphone-theft rates.

The robo pawn shops accept used phones, tablets and MP3 players, assess their value and instantly pay up.

Council's Public Safety Committee invited law-enforcement and industry representatives to a City Hall hearing yesterday to discuss banning the machines. They decided to form a task force to further examine their risks.

"This is a first step in figuring out how we solve Philadelphia's No. 1 crime," said Councilwoman Blondell Brown, sponsor of the proposed ban.

An August AAA report named Philly the top city for smartphone theft. Police have counted more than 5,800 cell thefts so far this year, with significant yearly jumps on public transit and university campuses.

San Diego-based ecoATM, a leading provider of cell-for-cash machines, has placed two in Philly since 2012 - Cheltenham Mall and Franklin Mills - and maintains more than a dozen in surrounding suburbs.

"Theft is bad for our business," said Max Santiago, director of law-enforcement relations for the company and a 30-year police veteran.

The machines photograph users and require fingerprints and photo IDs. Transactions are recorded and referenced with theft databases. If police track a stolen cell to an ecoATM, the company ships it back to the owner.

Of the more than 35,000 devices processed by area machines in the last year, 43 were deemed possibly stolen, Santiago said.

Maureen Rush, public safety vice president at the University of Pennsylvania, said retrieving phones doesn't go far enough.

She points to the traumas associated with the record 90 campus-area phone thefts reported this year.

"This technology is really great in that it helps us capture [thieves], but how many people need to get robbed in between?" she asked.

SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel suggested delaying the machines' instant cash so brazen criminals aren't paid before police catch them. He noted that a significant chunk of SEPTA offenders return to rob after multiple arrests.

A spokesman for ecoATM said they don't have plans to expand here, but are open to the possibility. Philly's current pair of kiosks is still open for business.


On Twitter: @jad_sleiman

CORRECTION: The source of the report that contained the number of cellphone thefts was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|