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Contact 6 joins MPD on undercover smartphone sting

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Contact 6 went along with Milwaukee police on an undercover operation to find stolen cell phones. Officials say through robberies targeting cell phone users, thieves are able to make easy money -- and Contact 6 has some tips to help you avoid falling victim.

Contact 6 was on hand for this cell phone sting operation, during which an undercover police aide entered what Officer Jeff Thiele calls a "corner store" to try to sell a stolen cell phone.

It is illegal for the store to buy the phone, since it doesn't have a license -- and the store could be fined thousands of dollars.

"I don't care if they give you 10 bucks for it. I don't care if they give you 20 bucks for it.  Take whatever you can get," Officer Thiele said.

It should take no more than 10 minutes, and a hidden microphone picks up the conversation inside the store.

In Spanish, the store owner tells the seller to wait while the phone is checked out. More than twice the expected time goes by.

"He's still in there. We're at 20 minutes and 52 seconds," Officer Thiele said.

Over 50 minutes later, the seller returned -- saying the store told the undercover aide that a client may be interested in the phone. There was no direct sale -- but the officers planned to go back.

"They'll buy this phone for 50 dollars -- resell it for $200 or $300," Officer Thiele said.

Officials say most of these cell phones are taken during robberies -- believing people who are not paying attention to their surroundings fall victim most often. So far this year, more than 1,500 stolen cell phones have been reported to Milwaukee police.

Plus -- the Marquette Tribune reported five people having phones taken right out of their hands while walking down the street. Both reported they were texting at the time.

Police say thieves look for a cell phone that is easy to take.

"Now, a cell phone is very much a tradeable commodity.  They are as valuable as currency," Milwaukee Police Captain Chad Wagner said.

Captain Wagner is trying to get businesses that buy stolen phones shut down -- or get them to comply with the law, and for $150 buy a license to sell second-hand goods.

"What goes along with that is the requirement to report those transactions, or the property that they buy, into a database that the police can monitor to look for stolen property," Captain Wagner said.

Officer Thiele knows for some stores, the risk is worth taking for the possible profit.

"The poor victim who gets robbed of their phone doesn't get the opportunity to get their phone back, and then this thing will be sold and gone before anybody can ever find it - before us police officers can go and get it," Officer Thiele said.

Contact 6 says because phones are a hot commodity, folks should try to resist the urge to use phones on city streets -- as doing so could make you a target.

Another tip is putting in a security code to make it more difficult for someone to use immediately.

Also, never let someone you don't know, use your phone for any reason -- and if your phone is stolen, report it quickly to your cell phone company so they can shut it down.

Don't forget to also report the crime to police!