Thieves Target Kiosks Used For Turning Cell Phones Into Quick Cash

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Results of a three month long investigation by Columbus police show that kiosks that are marketed as 'eco-friendly' are only making things worse.

Eco-ATM's, as they're called, have expanded to seven locations across the Columbus area. The Walmart on Stringtown Rd in Grove City, the Walmart on Georgesville Rd in Columbus, one at Easton Town Center, two at the Eastland Mall, and two at The Mall at Tuttle Crossing.

The company says they are trying to stop people from turning in stolen cell phones by requiring people to scan their ID at the kiosk, with a live person looking on, but Columbus police says it is not working.

Columbus police say they sent in a man to use a woman's ID at the ecoATM, and they say the machine still turned the phone into cash.

The kiosk system is marketed as a safe, eco-friendly way to get rid of your old cell phones and make some money, but police say it is also a hot-spot for thieves.

“EcoATM makes the claim that less than 1% of the phones turned into ecoATMs are stolen.  What we found out, in a three month period, is that 9%, we can confirm, is stolen,” says Columbus Police Commander Robert Meader.

Nine percent of 1100 cell phones checked, which means Columbus police found that 99 cell phones were stolen.  Police also say 18% of the people who used the ecoATMs in that timeframe are convicted thieves.

Police fear, it's as easy as leaving your cell phone in your car, as you run inside one of the stores to go shopping, only to return and find your cell phone missing. Thieves can then go a matter of feet inside the stores with the ecoATMs to turn these stolen cell phones, into quick cash.

Reynoldsburg resident Stanley Nicholson says he was a victim of a similar crime.  He says several days ago, someone broke into his car and stole his cell phone

“I was rather angry, to say the least, because I work for mine and I don't see why people can't do the same,” says theft victim, Stanley Nicholson.

Nichols says he doesn't know if his phone is now in one of these kiosks, but he says, “if it is, it shouldn't be allowed.”

While cities in other states are working to ban them, Columbus police say, for the time being, they're doing the best they can to track the crime.

“Often times, we have requested the information from ecoATM, but often time, the phone is shipped overseas,” says Commander Meader.

Commander Meader says the phones are shipped before they can ever be checked to see if they're stolen.

In response, ecoATM wrote 10TV the following: "We have heard the Columbus police mention these delays... We have changed our policy to hold all phones collected in Columbus to be held for 42 days instead of our standard thirty."

The company also says they will update the database more often with detailed information on each phone turned in.

Columbus police continue to investigate each stolen cell phone case.