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Curbing Thefts: City Council Votes To Ban Cash-For-Cell Phone Kiosks

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—The City Council has voted to permanently ban the kiosks that buy cell phones on the spot and instantly dispense money to the buyer.

As Mike Schuh reports, there is also a statewide ban in the works.

People with cell phones have become sleepwalkers--cell phone pointed forward, personal security not on their minds.

So, more and more thieves are snatching cell phones right out of their hands. A thief knows the victim will never be able to get up to speed.

Police and politicians think many stolen phones end up in the belly of these beasts: cell phone kiosks.

They look like ATMs. They're set up to buy a phone on the spot.

On Monday night the City Council voted to ban such devices.

"Tonight's vote was a step in the right direction for a safer Baltimore," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "These machines have been known to attract criminal activity, making it harder for communities to be safe. I support this ban and additional efforts that government and private industry can make to reduce incidents of crime surrounding these machines and to improve technologies that can permanently deactivate a stolen cell phone—making the device obsolete and reducing the incentive for criminals to steal them."

You can't find these machines in the city any more, but you can at malls surrounding the city.

"This makes it that much faster in the criminals' mind to get that fast money," said Del. Luke Clippinger, (D-46th) Baltimore City.

South Baltimore Del. Clippinger will introduce a statewide ban.

"With the reality of these machines being at Eastpoint and Annapolis and Arundel Mills and Towson and all around the city, we need a statewide solution to this problem," Clippinger said.

While the kiosks do require a driver's license and thumbprint, Clippinger feels stolen phones are not sold at the kiosks by the criminals, but by their friends.

"The person who committed the worse crime, the one who did the robbery, that person gets off scot-free," Clippinger said.

He says there are two other problems: the machines don't record a phone's serial number, which is a pawnshop requirement. And in a court case, he doubts a California company will fly someone to Baltimore to testify about exactly who sold the phone to the company.

"We're seeing them, in my mind, encourage people to go out and take people's cell phones," Clippinger said.

A spokesman for the San Diego-based company that makes the machines, ecoATM, argues banning the machines will drive sales underground where there are no identity checks.

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