Customers gather at the EcoATM kiosk at Underground Atlanta, November 2012
ATLANTA -- It's called EcoATM; It's an unattended machine that buys used cell phones, and it's one of the busiest spots in Underground Atlanta -- with people lined up to drop phones in, and get cash out.
EcoATM, based in California, has put its phone-buying machines in 11 shopping areas around metro Atlanta, among 250 nationwide. Atlanta police say they think the machines will attract thieves.
"The issue we see with this is this could be used as a tool for criminals to quickly sell phones that are snatched or taken in robberies," said Lt. Jeff Cantin of APD's downtown Zone 5 precinct.
As an example, Cantin says Ben Dostal's stolen iPhone ended up in the EcoATM kiosk at Greenbriar Mall last month.
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Dostal tracked the phone himself to the machine through a find-it app on his computer. But police don't know who sold the stolen phone. EcoATM requires sellers to scan a photo ID, which it matches with images taken from cameras on the machin e-- all sent in real time to a human being at the company's headquarters in California.
Police say it didn't work in Dostal's case.
"The person in the drivers license is going to be a light skinned black female; and the person in the photo is going to be a dark skinned black male," Cantin said.
A spokesman for EcoATM says a second photo may show the actual thief.
"If we spot a discrpency, if we think that there's a problem, then we flag that transaction and we don't allow it to occur," said Ryan Kuder, EcoATM's director of marketing.
Dostal got his phone back three days after he reported the theft.