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Leaders Want Baltimore County To Ban So-Called Cell Phone ATM Kiosks

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TOWSON, Md. (WJZ) — Cell phone theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country. In fact, the FCC says cell phones are taken in about 40 percent of all robberies. Now Baltimore County leaders say they have a plan to do something about it.

Derek Valcourt explains the action they plan to take.

Police say for these thieves it’s all about getting some quick cash for those stolen cell phones. County leaders say they want to make it harder for that to happen.

It happens so quickly. Thieves literally snatch cell phones right out of the hands of people talking on them. In Towson last year, thieves beat a college student to steal his phone, robbing him of an item many consider their lifeline.

“I got to have it with me all the time,” one man said.

“I probably would lose my mind if I lost my cell phone or somebody stole it,” a woman said.

Now some Baltimore County leaders are backing an effort to ban cell phone ATM kiosk machines that let people insert a used cell phone and get cash in return.

Police chief Jim Johnson says officers found kiosk operators were not thoroughly checking photo IDs of the people selling the phones.

“Detectives used government issued ID of individuals of different genders, different races, significant age differences by nearly 30 years,” Johnson said.

Right now, there are only three of these kiosks in Baltimore County–soon to be only two–operated by a company called EcoATM.

“We’ve built a company that strives to be law enforcement friendly,” said Ryan Kuder, V.P., EcoATM. “We’re seeing something unique in Maryland right now, and to be honest with you, it’s a little befuddling to us.”

But the county is doing more than banning kiosks. They are also taking aim at retailers like GameStop, where you can walk in with a used cell phone, sell it and walk out with cash.

Under the proposed regulations, any business that buys secondhand electronics, like cell phones, would have to be licensed. They could no longer give out any cash to someone buying a cell phone–checks only.

They would be required to report all purchases to police and would need to hold onto all cell phones for 18 days to give police time to check if they are stolen.

Both bills will be introduced at the next county council meeting on Monday.

The company that operates the cell phone kiosks says they have a total of 15 of them in Maryland, with two of them at Security Square Mall. A total of 900 of them are scattered in 43 states.

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