CEO of ecoATM defends company's crime prevention record

CEO of ecoATM defends company's crime prevention record

By Bobby Elliott, E-Scrap News

February 7, 2014

Not long after yet again facing criticism from police over the potential role of his firm in purchasing stolen smartphones, the founder and CEO of electronics buyback company ecoATM detailed the company's security strategies and defended its longstanding record with law enforcement officials.

"We want to not only comply [with local law enforcement officials], but be their partner in helping to stop and prevent this problem of phone [and device] theft," Bowles said in the extended interview. "And the vast, vast majority of law enforcement officials around the country have found that we're a great partner."

Baltimore County executive Kevin Kamenetz announced last week plans to ban ecoATMs throughout the county. A year ago this week, Washington D.C.'s police chief Cathy Lanier declared most of the phones traded-in at area ecoATMs were stolen, sparking a still-smoldering national debate on the merits of the service.

Founded in 2008, and bought for $350 million by Outerwall in 2013, the publicly traded company now has more than 800 of its namesake automated kiosks up and running across the U.S. Offering cash for used phones, MP3 players and tablets, ecoATM has collected more than 2 million devices since its founding, reselling 60 to 70 percent of traded-in devices and recycling the rest.

And despite claims to the contrary from police and politicians in several cities, including Houston and Columbus, Ohio, just one in every 1,500 devices is reported stolen, the company says.

"The byproduct of them taking this position is that they get lots of press," Bowles said of ecoATM's critics. "Some of them, we think, are noble people with a noble cause and just have a misunderstanding of what we do and we also know there are some that know we're not contributing to the problem but just enjoy the byproducts of saying we are."

"The problem," Bowles acknowledges, is very real. "It is a fact that smartphone property crime is on the rise around the country," Bowles told E-Scrap News. But, he says ecoATM uses a crime prevention system that has worked "since the very beginning" to curb crime, not encourage it.

According to Bowles, kiosk users are photographed, identified and fingerprinted, and all of the data is made available to local law enforcement officials. The company also holds traded-in devices for a minimum of 30 days so that if a device does get reported stolen, it can be passed on to law enforcement.

In addition, the company recently held a law enforcement summit to strengthen ecoATM's relationship with officials around the country. A law enforcement advisory board is "perpetually engaged" in giving feedback and suggesting changes to the system, Bowles added.

"Kill-switch" technology, which essentially allows users of phones to remotely disable their phone if lost or stolen, is another viable means to cut down on smartphone theft, Bowles says. Not all smartphones currently include the option, though that may change.  A bill was introduced today in the California state Senate proposing a mandatory kill-switch on all mobile devices.

Bowles told E-Scrap News ecoATM would be continuing to expand, particularly through a partnership with Walmart. And as his company grows, Bowles is confident that crime prevention will improve. "I don't think there's a growing trend where criminals go, 'Oh, you can use these things,'" he said. "In fact, criminals figure out pretty quick … this new option has a camera staring at you and takes your driver's license and thumbprint."

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