by: Tina Terry Updated:ROCK HILL, S.C. —
Channel 9 has been covering the rise in cellphone thefts in Charlotte for months, and tonight Eyewitness News reporter Tina Terry uncovered a new scheme to steal them and sell them back on the streets.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department was tight lipped when we asked about a black market operation on buying stolen cellphones on Charlotte streets.
A spokesman called it an ongoing investigation but Rock Hill police said Friday that members of a gang called the "715 Fam" have been stealing phones and selling them for cash.
“Guys were stealing iPhones any which way they could and funneling them to this guy in Charlotte,” said Officer Mark Bollinger with the Rock Hill Police Department. “Our investigators are going to work with CMPD and try to shut down this iPhone connection.”
In October Channel 9 reported that a group of Winthrop University students were pistol-whipped for their iPhones.
Police now say the "715 Fam" gang was responsible for that crime.
At that time CMPD warned Channel 9 about a spike in cellphone thefts, saying 2,332 mobile phones were reported stolen in 2012 and 2,888 in 2013 -- an increase of 556 thefts.
Police said the problem is that a cellphone is just like cash to a thief.
They can easily steal it, wipe it clean and sell it again for $100 to $300.
This month several United States lawmakers will attempt to solve the problem.
They'll introduce legislation requiring smartphones to have a kill switch that would make them unable to operate.
That is good news for people like Josh Scheerer, whose cellphone was stolen recently.
He used an app to track it down and got a disturbing message from the thief.
"They found out how to unlock it, and they texted me back and said, 'I bet you're mad I took your phone,' and then they wiped the phone clean and I couldn't find it anymore,” Sheerer said.
Rock Hill police officers said they're working with CMPD to stop these illegal sales.
Channel 9 talked to one CMPD officer who said he supports any legislation to stop the thefts.