BALTIMORE, Md. - iPhones, Androids; 4, 4s,5, Galaxies and Droids; every six months or so there is a new phone promising the next big thing.
We as consumers are quick to upgrade leaving behind a pile of used or obsolete technology; a pile many companies want to market, one of the fastest growing ones is called ecoATM.
"I mean the stats are staggering. If you look around the country there is an estimated $5 billion worth of used electronics used in drawers, just you know, decaying in value," said ecoATM representative Drew Spaventa.
It is ecoATM's business model to cash in on that value.
You may very well have seen their machines in our local malls and the process seems simple enough.
Take your old cell phone, put it in the machine and if you clear its security measures, it will instantly spit out the cash value, but it's that gratification of an immediate transaction that has local lawmakers taking their own quick action.
"Right now we passed a ban on these machines in Baltimore City," Baltimore City Councilman Bill Henry said.
Henry wrote the bill that so far passed committee; ecoATM machines are not welcome within city limits.
The thought is, the company’s kiosks make it easy for criminals to cash in on cell phone robberies which city police say anecdotally are well on the rise.
While there used to be a machine in Mondawmin Mall, there are currently no machines in the city; the working theory is phones are being stolen in the city and being cashed in at machines in the counties.
"I am seeing more and more cases of especially the high end, the iPhones the smart phones being stolen. And the fact that there are 8 of these machines in a ring around Baltimore at malls in Baltimore and Anne Arundel County and that these machines have come in at the same time that we are seeing the spike...that seems a little bit more than just coincidence," Henry said.
And so in order to give his bill even more teeth, Henry started to float the idea of a ban to the surrounding counties.
There is enough interest in and outside the beltway that representatives from ecoATM traveled from San Diego to address the Baltimore City Council last month.
"The immediate reaction is let's go work with them, let’s educate them. We have a long standing commitment to working with law enforcement and we're really proud of our product," Spaventa said.
That education includes telling the council about ecoATM's security measures.
If you use these machines, you must be over 18, submit a valid ID to be scanned along with a thumb print as well as be monitored in real time via camera from an attendant in San Diego.
In addition, the company says it generates reports to local law enforcement with the collected data if the phone is proven stolen.
No other company goes that far ecoATM says and with more than 600 machines in 40 states, the company boasts only one stolen phone per 1500 end up in their kiosks.
But law enforcement still believes because it is a machine, it is fallible and can creates a quick cash scenario for criminals.
"There are a number of outlets for stolen merchandise and we feel that in a partnership with other businesses that accept second hand trade items or for sale items, we have to have that same type of relationship."
The Baltimore Police Department's Director of Governmental Affairs, James Green is working with ecoATM to develop a more dependable reporting system.
In Baltimore, any second hand store must c atalogue and hold any merchandise it buys as sort of a vetting process to make sure the goods aren't hot.
Green expects ecoATM machines which are monitored from 3,000 miles away to have to do the same kind of instant reporting directly to police.
"That it's timely, that it's accurate, that it is a lead toward catching the perpetrator," Green said.
If they don't develop a system like that, the full city council promises to ban the company from the city and work to do the same in the counties, but so far city police say representatives from ecoATM have been working diligently to meet law enforcement concerns.
It has until next month before the ban comes up for a vote in Baltimore city.
Baltimore is not the only law enforcement agency concerned about the machines, Chief Cathy Lanier of DC Metropolitan Police has been very outspoken against ecoATM being a haven for criminals to cash in on stolen phones.
But Green says DC, Baltimore and Maryland are all currently working in concert with the company on these new regulations in a special task force.
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