"We are disheartened by the focus on us because we are hoping to provide transparency on our reporting, and we want to help the D.C. police come up with solutions to catch thieves," said Ryan Kuder, ecoATM's director of marketing.
Smartphones have become the target of too many violent robberies, police say. In the summer of 2011, a Washington father was brutally beaten with a baseball bat for his iPhone and suffered permanent brain damage. Local police last year set up fencing operations that recovered nearly 500 stolen phones from stores and individual dealers. Law enforcement officials in Los Angeles and Atlanta have also singled out ecoATMs, saying the promises of "instant cash for phones" may be encouraging thieves.
An ecoATM can operate without a human being. The kiosk automatically scans a person's ID, snaps a picture of the customer and takes a fingerprint. It then automatically checks the unique phone ID against a local police database, which is updated regularly. If the ID isn't on the list, the machine instantly dispenses cash to the user.
There are no limits on the number of phones an individual can deposit. Washington Council member Tommy Wells, D, said police have seen individuals hand off phones to third parties who make the transactions at ecoATMs. In one police video, an elderly woman appeared to act as a middleman and deposited a stack of boxes of phones into a local ecoATM, Wells' staff said.
These individuals should raise suspicions, Wells said.
"Give me a break. EcoATM knows that anyone who wants to quickly trade in a new or hardly used iPhone 5 is suspect, but they do nothing about it," said Wells, who recently introduced a bill that would force used phone dealers to do more rigorous checks on their devices.