Washington authorities say they have worked hard in the past year to keep phone thefts from rising. But the proliferation of ecoATM has presented a fresh challenge, they say.
One solution has been to create a national database of stolen phones, an idea championed by Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier. Wireless carriers would be banned from activating any phone that appeared on the list.
But the effort is only now getting going. And the database won't curb the growing international problem of stolen phones being reused abroad.
EcoATM says about 20 percent of the thousands of phones it collects each day are sold outside the United States, while Gazelle said half of its business comes from overseas buyers, particularly wholesalers in Hong Kong.
Gazelle wouldn't disclose its partners in Hong Kong but said firms there act as gateways to the global used-phone market that stretches from the Philippines to Brazil. In Brazil, consumers are willing to pay as much as $1,000 for a new iPhone 5, said Israel Ganot, president of Gazelle.
"In any emerging market you will see these stores everywhere that promote themselves as Apple stores and you'll also see hundreds of people crowded inside," Ganot said.