Thieves Targeting ecoATM Machines in San Diego

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    NEWSLETTERS

    It's called the ecoATM: A machine you can deposit an electronic device and get cash in return. One theft victim says it's an easy way for crooks to cash in on stone merchandise, by the company says it actually helps the police. NBC 7's Liberty Zabala reports.

    A vending machine may be making it easier for thieves to cash in on your iPhone.

    You know that panic when you reach into your pocket or purse and can't find your iPhone. But what if you GPS tracked it and found it some place like here?

    “I could see that my phone was traveling South toward Horton Plaza and it stopped!" said Victim Feliz Ventura, indicating the ecoATM, a San Diego company that operates self-service kiosks that provide payments for unwanted cell phones

    Feliz said she called the company for weeks and filed a police report. She finally got this phone back.

    “It had been shattered the company claims it was released shattered but they won't release the paperwork to me to prove it. The back of the phone didn't match. I thought, ‘Oh well they've sent me the wrong phone,’" Ventura said.

    But the company said it’s not the wrong phone.

    Police say thieves bypass EcoATM's stringent security in a number of ways including switching parts of phones with other stolen phones to avoid tracking.

    EcoATM is equipped with two cameras and requires sellers to provide a driver's license and fingerprint scan.

    In a statement the company said: "On the rare occasions when thieves do try to sell stolen propertyto our kiosks, we can be a valuable resource for the police because of our security features and the information we gather. We report all of the information we collect for each transaction to the local police on a daily basis.”

    San Diego police says it’s investigating seven other cases similar to Feliz’ case.

    “I got something back. It’s not what was taken," says Ventura.

    It’s an unintended consequence of the Giving Green Machine.

    “You can sell these things and there's no accountability," says Ventura.

    Jokingly, Feliz said she might just sell that phone back to ecoATM but at this point she'll just have to buy a new phone.

    Here is EcoATM’s full statement:

    “This is a very unfortunate situation where a law-abiding citizen was the victim of a crime in which thieves stole and doctored her phone.  We matched this phone to the one in the police report and returned it to the customer, although unfortunately it had been altered by the perpetrator.  We are working with law enforcement by providing the police with a full transaction report and assisting in the investigation.

    In fact, we very rarely see stolen property in our kiosks because of our security measures and cooperation with local authorities.  Just a fraction of one percent of the phones we collect are eventually reported stolen.  In contrast, there are countless options to sell stolen phones with no questions asked or records made, including through Craigslist and underground markets.  These methods can be unsafe for consumers and almost completely invisible to law enforcement.

    On the rare occasions when thieves do try to sell stolen property to our kiosks, we can be a valuable resource for the police because of our security features and the information we gather.  At ecoATM, a live person monitors every transaction and we take multiple photographs of the seller, scan the seller’s ID and collect their thumbprint.  We report all of the information we collect for each transaction to the local police on a daily basis.  We greatly value our relationships with law enforcement and are committed to helping the San Diego police in any way we can.”