The unassuming ATM-like kiosk at some North Texas malls may offer consumers instant cash for their old mobile phones.
The kiosks are called ecoATMs, and they are a way to safely recycle mobile devices, MP3 players and even some tablets for the instant gratification of greenbacks on the spot. The machines will pay out as much as $250 for some newer model devices like hot-selling iPhones and Androids.
However, for really antiquated clunkers, consumers may get no money. Instead they get a feel good message where the company will offer to plant a tree and donate money to a charity.
NBC 5's Consumer Unit tested the machine with several phones at Fort Worth Hulen Mall. For an iPhone 4, with cracks on the back, the machine offered $90. For an old Blackberry, the going rate was $4.
EcoATM is the brainchild of a San Diego-based start-up company founded in 2008. Since that time, the company said it has paid out millions of dollars to hundreds of thousands of customers.
"We collect thousands of used phones a day nationwide," said Ryan Kuder, the company's marketing manager.
There are more than 300 kiosks nationwide and about a dozen in the DFW area (listed below).
"For about 60 percent of the phones we collect, we're able to find a second life as a phone," said Kuder, saying they're refurbished and resold.
For the other 40 percent of collected phones, Kuder said they are smelted down. The precious metals are reclaimed and then put back into the supply chain.
There are other places to recycle an old phone. Some companies have buy-back options or consumers can donate to charity. In all cases, experts recommend to erase all personal information before the devices is pitched.
If consumers choose an ecoATM, the machine talks them through the step-by-step process with an adorable animated robot whose got some of the lovable qualities of Star Wars fan favorite R2D2 and Disney's Wall-E.
The machine identifies the phone and even spouts out eco-friendly facts during its inspection process. But one message ecoATM makes very clear is that this machine is not the place to pitch stolen phones.
In order to recycle a phone, a person needs to be 18 years old, have a valid driver's license and provide a thumb print. Plus, a consumer's face is matched to his ID and verified remotely via camera. The company also works with local police and law enforcement.
Robert Rivera walked up to the ecoATM kiosk at Hulen Mall hoping to walk away with some cash for his phone. But the machine said all he would get would be two bucks, less than the $30 he anticipated. So he left with his old phone in hand and no cash.
Mandy Vincent brought three older phones to the same ecoATM. She was offered $1 for one phone and $2 for the second. For the third, the machine could offer no cash value.
In the end, Vincent chose to recycle all three and said she thinks she got a fair price.
"I have three extra dollars from when I walked into the mall," Vincent said.
In North Texas, ecoATMs can be found at the following locations:
- Collin Creek Mall
- Grapevine Mills
- Hulen Mall
- Irving Mall
- La Gran Plaza de Fort Worth
- Ridgmar Mall
- Stonebriar Centre Mall
- The Parks at Arlington
- The Shops at Willow Bend
- Town East Mall
- Vista Ridge Mall