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Thieves Using Cellphone Trade-In Machines To Get Quick Cash From Stolen Goods


UPDATED: Wednesday July 31, 2013 6:33 PM

EcoATMs are placed at malls around central Ohio to provide a way for customers to trade their old phones in for money.

A user can just drop their phone in a bin, and the machine scans it for market value. Customers can get up to $300 cash on the spot.

But some criminals see the machines as a way to turn stolen merchandise into money.

10TV teamed up with plain clothes officers who have been secretly watching the ecoATMs for months.

Within 15 minutes, a hidden camera spotted what police called a suspicious transaction. It was a man and a woman trying to score quick cash with nearly a half-dozen phones.

Experts say it takes less than 10 seconds for a thief to smash out a window of a car and reach in to grab your phone.

Since March, Columbus police have charged 15 people accused of selling stolen phones, and investigators have identified 52 stolen phones turned in to ecoATMs.

That's the tip of the iceberg.

Police are waiting on subpoena results for another 647 phones that undercover officers suspect are stolen.

Authorities say the ecoATM company has added security measures, like requiring users to show identification. Police say a live operator is supposed to compare the photo to the seller.

Ohio Senator Jim Hughes is drafting legislation to stiffen the punishment for thieves who target electronics containing your personal and financial information.

"We need to update this, because if we don't, people are going to get taken advantage of," said Hughes.

Senate Bill 63 would enhance the charge from a misdemeanor to a felony, a possible deterrent for thieves looking to make a fast buck.  

EcoATM told 10TV that the company was not aware of Ohio's "Do Not Buy" List, which includes anyone convicted of a theft. The company said it will now work with law enforcement to access that database.

Read the company's full statement here.

The company's website states that fewer than one out of 4,000 devices it collects is later reported lost or stolen.

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