Investigates: Jacksonville thieves cashing in selling stolen cell phones at stores including Walmart

Local thieves are cashing in by selling stolen phones full of your photos, messages and memories by walking into stores, including Walmart, and walking out with a fistful of dollars.

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Lauren Feil was spending a sunny day at Jacksonville Beach before it got cloudy.

“I was out in the water with my brother. I came back, and my whole bag was stolen,” she said.

“I go home and do the Track My iPhone, and it’s at Walmart,” Feil said pointing to the store located at 13490 Beach Blvd.

According to a report she filed with the Jacksonville Beach Police Department, her missing bag included an iPhone 13 Pro Max, worth approximately $800. The phone was found at the Walmart inside an EcoATM kiosk, where the thief sold it for $115.

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Using EcoATMs

In an Action News Jax investigation of EcoATMs, what is supposed to be a good way to recycle your phone, make hundreds of dollars and help the environment, can potentially help thieves

The EcoATM website shows more than 5,000 kiosks in the United States, including at least 20 across Jacksonville. They’re mainly in Walmart, but they’re also at Dollar General, Winn-Dixie and Harvey’s Supermarkets.

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The company claims it has security measures in place on the machines to prevent theft, including cameras taking your picture from multiple angles, a requirement of photo identification and a thumbprint.

But Action News Jax Ben Becker discovered that it’s not foolproof.

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According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, since 2021, 75 phones that were either taken in a robbery, stolen or lost have turned up in EcoATMs.

Becker put one machine to the test by using an old iPhone 5 with an Action News Jax label on it. He connected the phone to the EcoATM and was then asked if the phone was his. He said yes, but the machine never acknowledged the station label.

The machine also took a picture of Becker and asked him a variety of questions, but there didn’t appear to be a way to verify if he was telling the truth or if his driver’s license was real or fake.

Becker was able to sell the phone for $1.

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iPhone Recovered

Feil was able to get her phone back when EcoATM opened the kiosk remotely at the request of the Jacksonville Beach Police Department.

She is one of the lucky ones. The EcoATM website actually tells people selling devices to turn off features like Find My iPhone.

“I just want people to be aware. Protect your phones. Protect your valuables because people are just looking for an opportunity to steal it, and this is an easy place to get money,” said Feil.

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So how can you protect your cell phone?

Grab your phone, and go to settings where you will find your phone’s serial number and IMEI number. Write both down because those numbers could help police find your phone should it ever get stolen and/or sold at an EcoATM

Police have identified a suspect who sold Feil’s phone through the identification the person used, but no arrest has been made.

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EcoATM Statement:

“EcoATM is committed to buying preowned devices from owners who choose to sell them to us. In the very rare instances when a phone or tablet is sold to us by an unauthorized party, we do everything in our power to return that device to its rightful owner in as quick a timeframe as possible while complying with all local, state and federal laws and procedures and the agencies that enforce them.”

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