Cell phone stores become prime targets for crooks due to growing black market

Images from surveillance video from the "safe" camera inside AT&T during armed robbery (Courtesy: AT&T Certified Retailer)

HUBER HEIGHTS, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) - Robberies like the one at AT&T Thursday are becoming more common. Why are cell phone stores the new bank for crooks?

FOX 45 took a look at the surprising black market, now growing across the country.

Dozens of smart phones were stolen from the store in Huber Heights, worth thousands of dollars. It was a quick way for these crooks to make big bucks.

“This type of armed robbery shows the value of the cell phones on the secondary market,” Dr. Patrick Oliver said.

Oliver is a former police chief and professor at Cedarville University. He says stolen cell phones are a hot item on the streets, growing in popularity.

“They're selling them on the black market to other stores,” Oliver said.

He imagines each phone sells for two to three hundred bucks.

You won't find stolen phones at major retailers like AT&T, Verizon or Sprint, but Oliver says sometimes smaller independent stores sell them.

“Much of the public doesn't realize they can go into a legitimate cell phone store and they're selling a new or used phone that's been stolen,” Oliver said.

In some cases, crooks will jailbreak phones. When someone jailbreaks a phone, it means they have installed software that means you can basically do whatever you want with it. That includes downloading apps that you wouldn't otherwise have access to, or being able to use it without a plan, which might be one of the reasons for the targeting.

“Since people have that knowledge they can take one and program it,” Oliver said.

So how do you deter criminals?

Oliver says stores need to install cameras, keep phones under lock and add panic buttons alerting police, similar to what banks have already done. But there's a caveat.

“The more security you put in place the less customer friendly it is,” Oliver said.

Plus, as the Huber Heights AT&T store found out, a gun in your face can change the game completely.

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