Councilman seeks changes to ecoATM regulations in Houston

It's an easy way to get rid of your phone and make money, but some are concerned criminals are cashing in with stolen phones
October 8, 2013 4:47:58 PM PDT
It seems easy enough: Take your old phone to an ecoATM and walk away with cash. It's an easy way to get rid of your phone, but some are concerned criminals could use the machines to cash- in with stolen phones.

We learned these ecoATM's have been banned from at least one city in the United States. The state of Maryland is considering an all out ban. Now, one Houston city councilman says he wants City Council to listen up.

The concept is simple: Recycle your cell phone or MP3 player for some instant cash.

"I have seen someone get money off of it. But it was for a new model phone," consumer Vanessa Salcido said.

Salcido tried it out but didn't get an offer. But for others, it can be a small payday.

"It's an alarm sound that should go off in the city of Houston about this," Houston Councilman Andrew Burks Jr. said.

Burks says the machines may be an easy way for criminals to cash in on a growing trend -- cell phone theft.

"The possibility certainly exists. There are people that are selling stolen cell phones to those machines essentially. Basically, they're giving a robot a stolen cell phone in exchange for some money," said Ed McClees with the Harris County District Attorney's Office Organized Crime division.

Ryan Kuder with ecoATM issued the following statement to Eyewitness News:

"We work in close partnership with law enforcement to help fight cell phone theft. There are many places in Houston where a criminal can quickly sell a stolen phone with no questions asked, including on Craigslist and the black market."

EcoATM has more than a dozen machines in around the Houston area. All are located inside malls. We learned the company is not regulated by any city ordinance the way that pawn shops are.

"Voluntarily exceed legal requirements to provide police with reports of all transactions, and return phones to the police upon request and to consumers free of charge if stolen," Kuder said.

Kuder says the company has given back a couple dozens phones to HPD. In the same cases, a thumbprint, state ID and snap shot required to be given by the seller can actually help catch criminals.

Burks says the problem is some victims don't report their stolen phones, and if they do...

"Serial numbers on cell phones are normally not jotted down. Therefore, how do we detect one item if it's stolen?" Burks said.

We did reach out to one pawn shop owner. He said he wants City Council to pass an ordinance that requires ecoATM to follow the same rules pawn shops do.

Councilman Burks said he will discuss this in open forum during Wednesday's council meeting.

The Houston police department says they're not seeing a spike in cell phone thefts because of ecoATM.

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