Stores that buy used cellphones in Baltimore County would be regulated like pawnshops and automated cellphone-purchasing kiosks would be banned altogether under legislation unveiled Thursday by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.
Kamenetz said he would ask the County Council to approve the proposals by March in an effort to combat what he said is the growing problem of cellphone theft.
One bill would ban the kiosks, which are found in malls and give users cash for used phones and other small electronic devices. Another would require stores that buy used phones to get county licenses and report transactions to police each day.
Electronics stores such as GameStop would be barred from paying a seller in cash and required to hold items for 18 days. Stores would be allowed to use checks or other traceable methods of payment, Kamenetz said.
"We're taking cash out of the equation here," Kamenetz said. "As the police know, for a criminal, cash is king."
Pawnshops would still be allowed to make cash transactions in the form of loans, as they do now, Police Chief Jim Johnson said.
Johnson said 300 phones were stolen in Baltimore County last year, which he said represented a significant increase.
He said he did not know how many were sold at kiosks or stores.
Industry representatives say they are already taking steps to prevent the sale of stolen goods.
A spokesman for GameStop said the chain "has a very disciplined process" in place to ensure that it doesn't buy stolen goods. In the Baltimore region, spokesman Joey Mooring wrote in an email to The Baltimore Sun that the stores require a valid state ID and hold devices for 30 days, among other measures.
A representative of ecoATM, the San Diego-based manufacturer of the phone kiosks — often called "reverse vending machines" — said the company has been unfairly blamed for thefts and would fight the legislation.
Spokesman Ryan Kuder said the firm fully cooperates with law enforcement and has taken steps to make the transactions safe. The machines photograph the person selling a device, and require a thumbprint and valid ID.
Johnson said detectives were able to work the kiosks with ID cards that did not match the person selling the phone. Some had different races, genders and ages — up to a 30-year difference — from the person depicted on the ID, he said.
Kuder said he was unable to comment on Johnson's allegations.
"The Police Department hasn't come to us with any of these alleged transactions," Kuder said. "We really have no way to comment on that because we haven't been provided with the information about the transactions."
Kuder said ecoATM already is working with Maryland lawmakers to address phone theft, and believes statewide legislation is a better approach than "patchwork" local laws.
General Growth Properties said in January it would remove ecoATMs from its malls in Maryland. The machines remain in two Baltimore County malls — Security Square and Eastpoint — which are owned by other companies.
Baltimore City banned the kiosks last year.
Kuder said ecoATM already "meets or exceeds" the regulations that Kamenetz has proposed for stores. It already reports transactions to the police department, he said, and holds items for 30 days.
Kuder said that out of 21,000 devices recycled in Baltimore County since April, police have asked about 42. He said not all were found to be stolen.
Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, said she supports the legislation, saying it "sends a message" to criminals.
Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said he started working on the issue last summer, when he heard from residents at community meetings.
"There's been different businesses that have profited greatly from the buying and selling of these cellphones, but unfortunately were some of the times at someone else's misfortune," Quirk said. "That's just not acceptable."
Councilman David Marks, whose district includes Towson, where robberies have been a growing concern, also supports the bill.
"I think the legislation is reasonable and I think it still provides a path for retailers to resell all electronics in a responsible way," said Marks, a Perry Hall Republican.
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