GREENSBORO, N.C. -- A new type of ATM is spreading quickly across the Piedmont. They’re called ecoATMs and dozens have popped up in local Walmarts and shopping malls -- built to recycle electronics and keep the metals, plastics and other materials out of landfills.
Kiosks collect cellphones, MP3 players, tablets and other electronics. Some devices can bring you several hundred dollars in cash.
"It's a gold mine,” said Greensboro Police Department Sergeant Terry Brown. “Turn it in and get paid cash on the spot for it.”
While the vast majority of transactions are legal, the devices have caught the attention of some thieves, and both police and officials in cities across the United States have taken notice including officers in the Piedmont.
EcoATMs were banned by Baltimore County Council this year.
"The thieves can take [electronics] to an ecoATM right way and get cash for it,” said Sgt. Brown. “Sometimes an hour later."
Greensboro police sergeant Terry Brown says the technology highlights the changing landscape of crimes.
"Everything was paper trail. There was no electronic trail,” said Sgt. Brown. “You physically had to go to pawn shops, look at the records, compare the records to the piece of paper that you have and now everything is digital."
EcoATMs require valid IDs, thumb print scans and the serial numbers of your devices.
Cameras snap pictures of you at the machines which are remotely monitored by company staff in California. If your face doesn’t match a valid ID, or you’re not an adult, then you can’t receive cash.
Serial numbers are reported to a national database for stolen property used by law enforcement officers across the United States including Piedmont agencies.
"The company's been very good with us,” said Sgt. Brown.
But the system isn’t totally fool proof.
Greensboro police say detectives receive at least one report every month now of people cashing in on stolen phones using the machines.
A spokesperson for ecoATM tells FOX8 that less than 1 percent of the nearly 30,000 devices collected in the Greensboro area have been stolen.
Not an alarming number of cases by any means, but with more ecoATMs springing up across the Piedmont, officers could start to see more of these reports.
"If that serial number matches, they'll get the phone back to us as soon as they can,” said Sgt. Brown.
Police say keeping track of your serial numbers is the best way to get a gadget back if you find yourself a victim.
Dialing *#06# on most smartphones will pull up a serial number if you’re unsure where to find it.
Each device sold at an ecoATM kiosk is held for 30 days at a processing facility before it’s recycled.
"If we don't have the serial number within 30 days,” said Sgt. Brown. “That phone is gone."
EcoATM operates more than 1,100 kiosks and have collected more than 3 million devices since 2008.