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Mugged for a phone that wound up in an ecoATM, commenter and company discuss on Baltimore Brew website

[These comments came on a Sept. 6, 2013 Baltimore Brew story “Do kiosks that pay cash for used cellphones promote theft?” and include some other commenters, along with the victim and the company spokesman.]


“Detailing my experiences dealing with ecoATM after a mugging earlier this summer: You also have to supply the ATM that accepted your phone, specific at least to the mall. They won’t know if your phone was retrieved until after their machine is full, which apparently can take a month or more. You of course need to supply your phone’s serial number, and optionally its IMEI. For all their technical savvy, ecoATM requires you to call their support line to report all of this information rather than fill out a form online that lets you track a ticket. This is important, I believe, since the numbers you need to provide are long, and a human error could prevent you from getting your device back.

Given the rigors of this process, its no surprise that ecoATM marks so few phones as stolen.

I was clued into the existence of ecoATMs only by the police officers who took my statement, and I was fortunate enough that the phone’s battery lasted long enough for me to track its movements, however sporadically. Otherwise I probably would’ve assumed the phone disappeared into the night.

Apparently the crew who targeted the Roland Park joggers liked to use the ecoATM in the Towson mall. I wonder if any of the victims were told about these reverse vending machines. I wonder how many of those bothered to file tickets.

My advice to other victims: never throw away the packaging for your phone, it’ll have the Serial and IMEI numbers. Call up ecoATM and file a ticket right away for all malls in the area. Lastly, call up your politicians and try to get this crap out of our state.”


“Hi cbroome, I work for ecoATM. I’m sorry to hear that you were robbed. I hope that we were able to help the police investigate and arrest the thief who robbed you. If the thief had sold your phone anyplace else, it may never have been returned and the police may never have known who had it. It is true that having a serial number or an IMEI number to track the phone makes it much easier to find and return. This would be the case for anyone who may have had your phone–not just ecoATM. If you don’t have your packaging, you can also get these numbers from you carrier just by calling them. It’s a good idea to call them anyways because they can disable the phone for you. Additionally, you don’t need to know the mall where the phone may have gone. We can track a phone across our entire network so if it shows up anywhere, we’ll be able to retrieve it and return it. We do ask for what mall it *may* have been at because it makes it easier and faster to find the phone. Most places thieves sell phones can’t track this way. I’m sorry to hear how long it took to return your phone. It shouldn’t take a month. We can usually know immediately if we have it, but sometimes it can take up to a week for the phone to be returned to our lab so we can ship it back. If the police are willing to cooperate, we can sometimes return the phone quicker than that.

Additionally, even if you never contacted us, we would have reported the transaction to your local police and provided them all of the information in a searchable database. This database would include the info about the phone as well as multiple high resolution images of the seller, a scan of their drivers license and their thumbprint. When you filed your police report, they have access to search this database for your device. All of the information about the seller was provided to the police for the transaction involving your phone. I hope they used it to investigate and make an arrest.

Most stolen phones are never returned because they’re sold to places that don’t track them, hold them, or report them to the police. If the thief had gone practically anywhere else, it’s unlikely your phone would have been found and returned. Again, I’m really sorry to hear that you were robbed, but I am glad that we were able to return your phone and let the police know who sold it to us.”

Keith Robideau:

“What steps are taken to ensure the drivers license isn’t the victim’s, particularly since their wallet may very well have been taken as well as the phone?”


You’re missing an important point. There’s no way to determine the phone’s owner during the process. All ecoATM asks for is a valid id that resembles the person performing the transaction.

For that matter information about the phone that could help determine ownership is not captured during the sale. The seller doesn’t have to prove that they can unlock the device, the device doesn’t even have to be powered on.

Process-wise, there’s a lot of things that ecoATM could do to strengthen the process on their end. They could make potential sellers of newer phones first download an app that would transmit device information ahead of the transaction. They could include common cellphone chargers on their kiosk, connecting the phone to a charger could glean some information that could be used to help establish identity. After the transaction, they could double check with the carriers before wiping the device. They don’t do any of this.”


Good question, Keith. There are multiple cameras on the kiosk that take hi def photos of the seller. Then we scan the drivers license and the scanners check for the appropriate holograms, structures, etc. The scan of the ID and the images of the seller pop up on a large HDTV screen in our command center where a human verifies the ID in real time. If there’s a problem with it, the transaction is declined. We can also have the seller remove their hat and glasses or reposition if the image isn’t clear. We have a member of our team verify each ID for every transaction at every ecoATM every day.”

Aaron Mirenzi:

so to steal a phone, you just need an ID that looks like you, correct? is the ID connected to the phone in anyway? it sounds like to beat the system you just need to show an ID that looks like you, but isn’t you. if the phone ends up being stolen, then it comes back to the ID? am I right about this?


I wasn’t able to get my phone back as of yet. After waiting two weeks for the phones in the ecoATMs in question to be “delivered to a lab” so I could at least find out if mine was among them, I basically put my search on hiatus. I’m waiting for word back from ecoATM, though I’m not hopeful to get it.

So far as the other measures your company offers, if the police have access to a database to track stolen devices, they don’t know about it. Since the city has no ecoATMs, I assume all transactions would be reported to the county? maybe to the state? Even under ideal circumstances this will take weeks to resolve.

Bottom line, if the robbers weren’t confident they could get an easy payout I doubt we’d see the spike in street robberies in the city recently.