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New bill seeks jail cells for stolen cells

Bronx Times

Two local legislators are taking aim at black market cell phone sales.

On the one-year anniversary of the murder of a Riverdale man, Hwang Yang, killed by two assailants for his iPhone, Senator Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz announced legislation that would require secondary re-sellers of popular smart phones to prove they are the rightful owners.

The announcement was made on Friday, Oct. 18 on the street where Yang was found murdered.

The legislators cited news reports of stolen smartphones sold off-the-books at neighborhood stores all over the city, including laundromats, flea market stands, and bodegas.

If the bill becomes law, a retailer who resells used phones but is unable to prove they were bought legally could face large fines or even jail time.

“The goal of this legislation is to scare black market retailers out of this terrible business,” said Klein. “If you’re a retailer making a few extra bucks by selling stolen phones, you’re now going to think twice before you open up your wallet and pay one of these criminals.

“I have had someone killed in my district over an iPhone,” Klein continued. “That is as bad as it gets. But it’s an epidemic across this city and we can’t wait any longer to take meaningful action.”

According to statistics released by Klein and Dinowitz, thefts of mobile devices continue to rise.

“The theft of smart phones and other wireless communication devices is perhaps one of the most frequent crimes committed in New York,” said Dinowitz. “In my district there has been a rash of these thefts in the past couple of years, including a horrific incident where a young man was murdered for his iPhone.”

In the east Bronx, 45th Precinct Community Council president Bob Bieder said that the precinct’s crime prevention program can etch any electronic device with an identification number that’s very helpful in fighting crime. Etching is offered at police precincts around the borough.

“We do get people snatching them all of the time,” he said. “They snatch and run.”

Bieder said that young people should be aware of their surroundings, and not be totally engrossed in their phones while walking down the street because this gives thieves a chance to grab the devices.

Identifications numbers can be etched into the phone so that they are not visible to the naked eye, he said.

In Westchester Square, at a branch of 1800FIX - a chain that sells used smartphones and computers - selling a phone requires collecting identification, photographing, and a 15-day verification process through the LeadsOnline, a service which checks the phone’s serial number against law-enforcement databases, said store manager Carlos Aguirre. “A customer can come in and easily lie and say ‘the phone is mine,’” he said. “So we run them through LeadsOnline and that will tell us within 15 days if it is stolen.”

Aguirre said that 1800FIX locations have caught thieves in the act. With some new phones costing as much as $500, it just isn’t right for a “punk” to come along and snatch these costly devices, he said.

Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at procchio@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3393

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