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Mall owner removes cellphone -recycling kiosks from Towson Town Center

The company that runs malls in Towson, Columbia, Owings Mills and White Marsh is removing cellphone-recycling kiosks from its Maryland locations after politicians voiced concerns that the machines contribute to cellphone thefts, including a rash of robberies in north Baltimore last summer..

In August, at least five juveniles and one adult were arrested in a string of street robberies of pedestriands and joggers. Police said at the time that the suspects were thoght to be turing the machines in at Towson Town Center for cash.

General Growth Properties is taking ecoATMs out of all its properties in the state, a spokesman for the Chicago-based company said. The kiosks, which have been called "reverse vending machines," allow users to receive cash for used phones and other small electronic devices.

Local politicians have blamed the machines for contributing to cellphone thefts, an allegation that representatives of the ecoATM company say is unfounded. Baltimore's City Council banned the machines in September.

Ryan Kuder, vice president of marketing for San Diego-based ecoATM, called the move disappointing. Since April, people have recycled more than 21,000 devices at ecoATMs in Baltimore County, he said. Of those, county police have asked for about 42 devices for investigative purposes, but not all of them were found to have been stolen, he said.

The company says its machines photograph each person selling a device, and require a thumbprint and valid ID from each customer — and that ecoATM employees visually monitor the transactions remotely to ensure that customers match the photographs on their IDs.

"Most of the market for used phones is completely unregulated and underground," said Kuder, noting that people can sell stolen phones online and elsewhere. "We believe the fingers are being pointed in the wrong direction."

In August, at least five juveniles and one adult were arrested in a string of street robberies of pedestrians and joggers. Police said at the time that the suspects were thoght to be turing the machines in at Towson Town Center for cash.

Alison Knezevich and Larry Perl/Baltimore Sun Media Group

CDC reports rise in flu cases in Maryland and nationally, but no deaths so far

After a slow start to flu season in Maryland, physicians and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they are starting to see a jump in cases around the state.

Nationally, flu cases are also on the rise. So far, no one has died of the flu in Maryland this season, according to the CDC.

The majority of flu cases in Maryland and in the U.S. as a whole have been influenza A, a collection of common strains that include H1N1, also known as swine flu, according to the CDC. Those strains are covered by this year's flu vaccine.

Nearly two dozen people were hospitalized for the flu across the state, with more than 400 people testing positive for the flu in state and clinical labs for the week that ended Dec. 28, according to data collected by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and given to the CDC. The CDC did have not have a detailed geographic breakdown of cases.

Carrie Wells/The Baltimore Sun

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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