TOWSON, Md. (WJZ) — He was brutally beaten and stabbed over his cell phone. A Towson student finally talks about the night he nearly lost his life–and he’s still so shaken, he asked WJZ to hide his identity.

Denise Koch reports police reveal an alarming rise in cell phone thefts and their plan to stop thieves from cashing in.

It happens in an instant–a moment of distraction. Before you know it, your cell phone is gone. It’s happened to thousands of people and nearly cost this Towson student his life.

“They just came from behind me really suddenly and they were like, `What ya got? What ya got?'” said Mykeal.

Mykeal was on his way home from work, walking along Burke Avenue late at night when he was attacked by three men.

“I had my phone in my hand and they tried to take it,” he said.

He resisted and a fight broke out.

“I went down after the first couple of punches and it was a lot of blows happening really quickly,” Mykeal said.

The men ran off–but not before they stabbed Mykeal several times.

“I started feeling gradually weaker and I sat down next to a telephone pole and the next thing I remember, the police were there,” he said.

Cell phone robberies are skyrocketing with 1.6 million nationwide last year. Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson tells WJZ robbers stole more than 300 phones in the county last year–that’s a nearly 40 percent increase over 2012.

“Since the transition from the old flip phones that were perhaps $50 or $60 to these $400, $500, $600 phones, we’ve seen just a remarkable increase,” Johnson said.

The chief says the money trail leads straight to reverse vending machines where criminals easily trade smart phones for cash. They tap into a huge international black market. A phone that costs a few hundred dollars in the U.S. can actually sell for $2,000 in Hong Kong.

“Would you walk about with $500, $600 or $700 in your hand? Course you wouldn’t do that but we do it with our phone each and every day,” Johnson said.

In California, lawmakers are pushing a bill to require a kill switch on phones to disable them when stolen, making them worthless to thieves.

“This is such a big deal that the crooks themselves call it apple picking, so this legislation makes the apples not worth picking,” said San Francisco Police Chief Greg Surh.

Baltimore County is taking action with proposals to ban automatic purchasing machines and prohibit stores that buy pre-owned phones from paying out cash.

“Remove cash from the equation and then you seriously address this robbery theft problem,” Johnson said.

The attack on Mykeal put him in the hospital for nearly a week. He’s still recovering and trying to wrap his head around what happened to him.

“It’s hard to accept,” he said. “Obviously you’re not supposed to trade your life for a piece of technology…give them the phone. It’s not that important.”

Baltimore County Police arrested three men in the attack on Mykeal. They’re being held on charges of attempted murder, armed robbery and assault.

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