EcoATM at WalMart pays cash for phones

Lake Highlands neighbors who’ve adopted taking a daily constitutional during the pandemic are being warned to pick up their heads and put down their phones. Three people out walking in recent days have had their cell phones stolen by a pair of robbers, and the perpetrators are becoming increasingly violent.

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One woman walking in White Rock North relinquished her phone to man who accosted her last week. Last Tuesday, a man walking in Merriman Park North was assaulted when he refused thieves’ demands to give up his phone. On Sunday, realtor Beth Arnold was injured when her phone was violently taken in Lake Highlands Estates. The description from all three victims is the same – two Black males in their late teens or early 20s. They are tall and thin, wearing hoodies pulled down tight. The phone grabber arrives on foot, then retreats to join a driver waiting in a silver sedan with dirty paper license plates.

Arnold agreed to share her story and her name in an effort to help neighbors avoid another attack and find the perpetrators.

“More than anything I feel angry,” says Arnold. “I don’t think I’ve ever screamed that loud. He came up behind me and pressed his chest against my back. His wrist was tight around mine. He clearly didn’t want me to turn around and see his face.”

During the struggle over the phone, the robber’s watch cut and bruised Arnold’s hand. As he broke away and ran to the getaway car, neighbors – including one eyewitness – arrived to call 911.

Responding Dallas police officers told Arnold her attack – and her perpetrators – resembled the other two. The phone in her hand and the earbuds she was wearing likely attracted the thieves. In retrospect, Arnold recalls seeing the car pass her suspiciously, just before the attack.

Like many of us, Arnold’s phone contained various apps and passwords, so she ran home to track the phone and thwart electronic theft. But the phone had already been shut down by the bad guys. DPD detectives explained why.

“That’s not really their end game,” detectives told Arnold. “They’re risking second degree felony charges just to sell your phone for a hundred dollars.”

Just inside both WalMarts in Lake Highlands sits an EcoATM kiosk which spits out cash for phones on the spot. Depending on the make, model and age of the phone, sellers can walk away with up to $200. Though EcoATM touts “security features,” such as requiring state ID, scanning seller’s fingerprints, taking photos of the seller and sharing information with police, it’s clear that robbers are enjoying the rapid cash EcoATM machines provide. If thieves needed motivation to steal a smartphone, they can find it at WalMart between the cart queue and the key copier.

“The last two nights I’ve had dreams about it,” says Arnold. “I feel like someone’s chasing me. Now everywhere I go, I see people walking in the neighborhood, holding their phones. I want to stop and get out and tell them to put their phones in their pockets. These thieves are brazen. They are aggressive. It makes me so sad. You can’t even walk in our sweet neighborhood.”

Arnold says she’s reluctant now to take the walk that’s become a daily habit. She’s looking to purchase a treadmill to walk safely inside her home.

Major Terrence Rhodes, commander of DPD’s northeast division, says he believes his team is close to catching the cell phone muggers.

“Thanks to the witnesses who’ve provided information, we think we’ll get these guys.”

Maj. Rhodes says he hopes the incident will remind neighbors all over Lake Highlands to be aware of their surroundings while spending time outdoors.

“If you’re going to walk with earbuds, just use one,” he says. “That way you’ll hear if someone approaches.”

Arnold has a message of thanks to the DPD officers and detectives who helped her that day, and another to the eyewitness and other neighbors who ran to her aid.

“I’m so thankful he was right there. Six people immediately heard my screams and came out to help me. That’s just how Lake Highlands folks are. I couldn’t be more thankful.”

Ring cameras captured this image of the getaway car

Eyewitnesses say this Pontiac, seen throwing Amazon boxes out the window at Audelia and Northwest Highway, strongly resembles the phone muggers