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Philadelphia Lawmaker Moves To Ban Cash-For-Cellphone Machines

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Philadelphia City Council is considering banning those new, ATM-style kiosks that offer cash for old cellphones.  Lawmakers fear the machines may prompt a rise in mobile phone thefts.

"EcoATM provides a quick, convenient way for consumers to sell their consumer electronics for top dollar, and receive instant cash in return," says one commercial marketing what's called an EcoATM, which offers cash on the spot for old cellphones and MP3 players.

"Each device finds a new home or is responsibly recycled to reclaim materials. And the best part: you walk away with the cash!" the video's soundtrack says.

But the City of Baltimore last month banned the automated kiosks out of fear they'll prompt more cellphone thefts, and here in Philadelphia Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown is proposing the same.

"We're saying we don't want them in the city," she tells KYW Newsradio. "It's a public safety issue. And we're going to do what we can through this legislation to ban them."

Reynolds Brown say cellphone thefts here have already gone beyond just a growing problem.

"Of the top ten largest cities, Philadelphia is number one when it comes to smartphone thefts -- we rank number one!" she says.

Reynolds Brown bases that ranking on a March 2013 survey by the mobile security firm Lookout.

There is only one such EcoATM machine in Philadelphia at this point, at the Franklin Mills Mall, but several suburban malls have them. The device asks for the seller's thumbprint and driver's license, and takes a photograph of the seller.

A spokesman for the manufacturer, Ryan Kuder, told KYW Newsradio that the firm is taking a national lead in helping police track cellphone thieves, and readily provides details on sales to investigators.

"The reality of the situation is that we actually ask more questions (of the seller) than anybody who purchases secondhand phones in the marketplace right now," Kuder says. "We collect all the information that we have about a transaction. And we voluntarily report all of that transaction to the police in the format that they want, at the frequency that they want. We're still providing thumbprints, we're providing photographs, we're providing devices back to police."

But Reynolds Brown says that information is essentially meaningless since there is no registry of cellphones for cross-checking.

No date has been set yet for the hearing on Reynolds Brown's bill.


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