LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Our story begins at the 7-Eleven on Deer Springs and Aliante -- the scene of the crime, if you will -- where an 18-year-old girl named Mikayla Harper, who was getting ready to leave for college, left her phone behind for just a minute.
"...she [Harper] got out to her car and started her car, and her Bluetooth started acting up," explained her mother, Janae Deeney.
Harper immediately realized she'd left her phone inside the 7-Eleven on the counter.
"So she ran back in, and as she got in, there was the cashier and there was a lady standing at the register."
But Harper's phone was already gone.
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With her mom and sister's help, Harper was able to track the phone to Aviary park, about a mile away.
It was pinging inside a car with two women sitting in it. The same car that they had just seen at 7-Eleven.
Harper and her sister called police. It was late on the night of July 4.
"And they [police] said, 'We don't come out for stolen phone incidents,'"Deeney recalled.
Frustrated, the girls made a potentially dangerous decision -- confronting the women inside the car and recording it.
Harper: We tracked with find my iPhone and it tracked right here.
Woman in car: I haven't grabbed any phone. I just grabbed the cigar that I bought.
Harper: I'm not blaming you but if you did take it I would like it back.
Woman: I mean, you could blame whoever you want to.
Harper: I said I'm not blaming. I just want my phone back if you do have it.
Woman: We have no phone. I'm sorry. We're just smoking weed and having a conversation.
Harper went back to 7-Eleven where they showed her surveillance footage that seems to show the woman she'd confronted stealing the phone off the counter.
She filed a police report on July 5.
"It was an expensive phone," Deeney said. "I still owed $950 at least on it."
Deeney opted to keep paying for the stolen phone so she could lock it and keep it in lost mode -- hoping police would find it since they had the theft on camera, the getaway car's license plate and the driver's address.
But nothing happened until Deeney got a voicemail message a month later, on Aug. 6, which said, "Hi, this is Ashley calling from ecoATM. Calling today about a recent transaction at one of our kiosks. This number was on the screen and we'd appreciate if you could please remove the device from the iCloud or Android account."
Harper's brand new iPhone X Max was sold for $125 at a kiosk in a North Las Vegas Walmart.
"In my mind I'm thinking, how is it that they're able to take a phone that's locked and reported as stolen and still get money for it?!" Deeney said, incredulously.
13 Investigates first reported on ecoATMs earlier this month.
There are 16 of them in the Las Vegas area in various Walmart and Smith's grocery store locations.
EcoATMs spit cash out in exchange for your phone or tablet. They're supposed to help protect the planet from electronic waste.
But many in law enforcement echo concerns shared by retired Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Detective Phil Ramos, who said, "It's a great, convenient thing for a legitimate consumer, but it really invites crime. I mean, it's an easy, quick way for bad guys to make money."
"Our system will flag it," said ecoATM spokesperson Chase Freeman, explaining that the system catches almost all questionable sales.
But not in Harper's case.
"It didn't happen," said Deeney. "They didn't assume it was stolen until they talked to me. Because what they had wanted me to do was just unlock the phone."
And the kiosks' security features -- ID and thumbprint scan, plus photos taken of the seller -- didn't deter the thief who stole Harper's phone. She seemed to know just what to do.
"The lady who had stolen it had asked one of her friends to sell it through the kiosk. I think that she probably does it all the time."
North Las Vegas Police say they deal with stolen phones in ecoATMs on a regular basis.
That's despite the company's statistics.
"We've been in the greater Nevada area since march of 2017," said Freeman. "In that time we've collected over 90,000 devices, and of those 90,000 only 100 were linked to stolen devices."
Deeney thinks it happens a lot more often but ecoATM doesn't know it because most people don't bother to report a stolen phone.
"I would've given up, but I was like, you know what? It's about principle."
Because she didn't give up, she eventually did get her daughter's stolen phone back.
EcoATM admits they failed to catch this one on the front end, but did work with police once they knew the phone was stolen.
There's now a warrant out for the thief's arrest.
Tune to 13 Action News on Thursday at 11 p.m. as 13 Investigates looks at why police and consumers say the frequency of crime at ecoATMs might be more than the company wants to admit.