FBI, police cracking down on cell phone store robberies, including 16 recent armed thefts

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Thus far, it's been a year cell phone dealers in the metro would love to hang up.

Selling a stolen cell phone has gotten way too easy, at least, according to police. That's why law enforcement in the metro is targeting criminals who've taken part in a recent string of crimes against stores that cell mobile technology.

A police source tells FOX4 law enforcement officers from at least two police department, as well as the FBI, are addressing 16 robberies at Kansas City area stores since March, where criminals come into a store and threaten employees with trouble if they don't turn over expensive cell phones.

Some of those phones can cost as much as $1,000 apiece. Independence Police Officer John Syme, who works as a spokesperson with the department, said business operators in those thefts lost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 apiece.

"We want these business owners to take the extra steps to keep their businesses safe," Syme told FOX4. "Definitely, there's a concern for the employees working in these businesses or other people who may be there at the time."

Syme and other officers said criminals have been spotted at kiosks, such as the ones that sit in grocery stores and shopping malls, where used phones can be sold for cash.

However, a spokesperson for the FBI said detectives aren't sure how crooks are beating those machines' security devices.

"They're currently filing federal charges and state charges in some of these cases. They're taking it very seriously," Syme said.

Business owners Kansas City's Westport neighborhood haven't forgotten February 2018, when thieves smashed through windows and display cases with rocks at SETCELL to get access to expensive cell phones.

Stacy Percival, the store's new owner, has a full regiment of cameras that keep his inventory and people safe. He also praised Westport security officers, who can be summoned to a store with the push of a button.

"I think security for your store is very important," Percival said. "Breaking into anyone's store, whether it's a cell phone store or a gift shop, that's wrong. It's discouraging. There are people here who try to make an honest living."

"These criminals will be held accountable. We're looking for more of them," Syme said.

Syme said some stores may want to consider hiring private security officers to help scare away would-be robbers.

Percival said he'll stick to his surveillance cameras. His business is moving to a new location soon, and the new spot will have even more electronic eyes watching.

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