Edina man warns of brazen cell phone thieves

5:27 PM, Jun 12, 2013   |    comments
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ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. - Paul Hartwig thought he would do some work on his computer at Caribou Coffee on Cedar Lake Road when plans changed quite dramatically two weeks ago.

"The guy was tearing my phone, my iPad, my laptop, everything off the table," said Hartwig.

That guy stole Paul's iPhone right from his hand in the middle of broad daylight.

"I was actually really mad this guy had the stones to do it," he said.

When he reported the crime to St. Louis Park police, he says the detective told him there is a growing concern about an easy way to get cash from used cell phones.

"And they put them in these kiosks and it spits out money," he said.

Those kiosks are called ecoATMs and a number of them have popped up in malls throughout the metro.

It's a machine that will recycle your phone and give you cash on the spot.

St. Louis Park Police would not comment about the investigation, but police throughout the country have expressed concern.

At this point, there is no evidence that Hartwig's phone has found its way into an ecoATM, and the San Diego-based company believes it would be the best place for it to end up because of the many safeguards the company says it sets up.

"We work hard to make sure that ecoATM is the worst place for a thief to sell a stolen phone," said Brad Kuder, ecoATM spokesperson.

The kiosk scans a person's I-D, snaps a picture of the customer and takes a fingerprint. And he claims so far, there have been few problems in Minnesota.

"We've recycled over 30,000 phones at local ecoATM kiosks. To our knowledge, there have been only a few incidents of stolen phones being discovered in ecoATMs and in all those cases, we've been able to return the phones to their rightful owners and assist the police in their investigations," said Kuder.

Meanwhile, Hartwig is now using a replacement phone and has no idea where his stolen phone is located. But he has advice for cell phone users, be aware when you're using your phone.

"I say, keep it in your pocket," he said. "Even if you're on your phone they'll grab it."

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