From Cody Telep. Follow him on Twitter @codywt, email him at cody[AT]borderstan.com.
Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Cathy Lanier appeared on the TODAY Show last Thursday expressing frustration with the rise in ATMs that allow customers to trade in and recycle used cell phones and other electronics for cash on the spot.
ecoATM is the San Diego-based company that produces the machines and places them in malls and shopping centers across the country. Lanier believes that ecoATMs provide an extra incentive to potential robbers, because the machines offer a quick and easy way to trade in stolen phones for cash.
The company disagrees, arguing that extensive security measures make it difficult to trade in stolen phones. Customers using the machines must be 18-years-old and provide a valid photo identification card that is compared in real-time to a photo taken by the machine. They must also provide a thumbprint.
ecoATM records the serial number of each phone collected and stores them for at least 30 days after collection. Additionally, the company announced Wednesday the creation of an eight-member Law Enforcement Advisory Board, who will provide recommendations on how ecoATM can best partner with police agencies and ensure the machines are not used for reselling stolen goods.
Lanier first argued against the use of ecoATMs on WTOP in February, stating that up to 30 to 35 percent of the phones recycled at ecoATMs are stolen. The company disputes these figures, noting on their website that fewer than five out of every 10,000 phones recycled are stolen.
Lanier said Thursday that MPD believes at least 200 phones stolen in the District have turned up in suburban locations of the machines and that MPD has already made six arrests in these cases. She did commend the company for being very cooperative in law enforcement investigations when a phone believed to be stolen is found deposited in the ATM.
ecoATM currently does not have any machines inside the District, and has not announced any plans to establish a D.C. location. The company formerly operated a machine in Temple Hills, MD at Iverson Mall, but the machine was removed because of a licensing issue. There also was previously a machine in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City that no longer appears on the company’s list of locations.
While there are still a number of ecoATMs in the D.C. metropolitan area, the remaining current locations would not be particularly convenient for District robbers. The closest ATMs are in Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Virginia; St. Charles Towne Center in Waldorf, Maryland; and Potomac Mills in Woodbridge, Virginia.
If your smartphone is lost or stolen, you can have the device remotely disabled by the provider to make it more difficult for the phone to be reused or resold. More information is available from MPD’s “Brick It!” website (DC Announces Initiative Encouraging Victims to Disable Stolen Phones).