One of the most common myths that people still believe about pawn shops today is that they are “shady” and may sell stolen items. One way that pawn shops are addressing this myth is by running items through a pawn shop stolen items database. It’s true: thieves often turn to pawn shops to attempt to get money for stolen items. Thanks to the efforts of both pawn shops and law enforcement, stolen items have a role in less than 1% of all pawn transactions made today.
Why It Matters to You
Running a legitimate business is important to the pawn shop and to the customers who do business with them. These businesses provide an important service to the people in their community. They want to build a relationship of trust and increase their customer base to make their businesses successful.
Pawn shops typically rely on repeat business from the same people in their community. They grow their businesses through referrals from friends, co-workers, and family members. People aren’t going to recommend a business that they suspect is anything less than ethical. Making every effort to keep stolen merchandise out of their shops goes a long way towards reaching this goal.
It isn’t just the pawn shop and the thief who are involved in these transactions. When you are the person a thief has stolen from, you want to get your items back. The pawnbroker’s willingness to work with law enforcement to recover stolen goods greatly increases your chances of having your valuables returned.
California Pawn Shop Regulations & Laws
Pawn shops are held to a number of regulations and laws at the local, state, and federal level. In California, pawnbrokers must obtain a secondhand dealers license and provide an inventory of all the items they accept for pawn to law enforcement daily. They are also required to hold those items for a thirty-day period before they offer them for sale.
If you’ve ever sold or pawned anything at the pawn shop, you know that you have to present identification. This is just one way that pawnbrokers work to deter thieves. Just knowing they have to prove who they are is enough to deter some thieves.
The agreements made between the pawn shop and the customer are only legal if the customer is the rightful owner. If the pawn shop accepts an item without taking steps to ensure it isn’t stolen and the owner or law enforcement finds it, they must return the item to the owner at a loss for the amount they paid or loaned against it. It doesn’t matter how much the pawn shop paid: the agreement is void.
Some pawn shops attempt to negotiate with the legal owner to recover at least part of what they paid. This goes against the legal terms of ownership and the agreement between the pawn shop and the seller.
The more efforts pawnbrokers make to avoid buying stolen goods, the less appealing it will be to thieves looking to make a fast dollar. The California law that requires pawnbrokers to use the pawn shop stolen items database and to withhold selling items for thirty days is one factor that makes the state’s pawn shops safe to sell to and buy from. There are some others that pawn shops use to protect their businesses and their customers.
Myth: Pawn Shops Want to Buy Stolen Goods
The first idea that people need to get past is that pawn shops want stolen goods to sell. The idea of passing stolen items from thief to pawnbroker without the middleman sounds like a good deal. After all, the thief is desperate to get money for something newly acquired. A thief is more likely to take less money and get out in a hurry; right?
If there’s one thing people have learned from TV shows like Pawn Stars, it’s that these businesses operate in much the same way that a retail store does. The big difference is that the merchandise they sell comes from people in their community; not from a manufacturer or wholesaler.
We also know that the pawnbrokers have a limit to what they will pay for any item. Additionally, they limit what they will buy and have many items verified to determine a fair value. Then, they pay a percentage of that value. This allows them to give customers a fair price and still make a profit from the transaction.
How the Pawn Shop Stolen Items Database Evolved
Decades ago, pawnbrokers found it much more challenging to identify stolen items. When a person comes through the door with a piece of jewelry or some type of electronics, it’s in their possession and, for all intents and purposes, it belongs to them. Often, the pawnbroker only had the seller’s appearance and their gut feeling to go on.
Even then, pawn shop owners knew that it was to their benefit to avoid buying stolen items. They just didn’t have the resources to make monitoring their received items practical.
In the early 1990’s, email entered into the anti-theft process. Even though this greatly increased the number of pawn shops monitoring for stolen items, it was a laborious process. Law enforcement would create lists of stolen items and send them to pawn shops for reference. In turn, the pawnbroker had to compare items against the list on an item by item basis.
Police also included descriptions and names of suspects when they had them available. In addition, pawn shops created lists of their items and sent to law enforcement for them to compare. This allowed law enforcement to identify specific stolen items when they showed up at the pawn shop.
Today, the pawn shop stolen items database makes it easier for people to get their stolen items back. The system is fairly easy for every party involved. The information on items received goes into the database and becomes accessible to law enforcement later that night. Police can access the database at any time to look for missing items.
The identification of a range of items depends on the serial numbers. These numbers are unique for each item of a kind so there is no confusion about whether an item is the same, even if it had been stolen in the next county over! Insurance companies often require serial numbers as a means to provide coverage for different kinds of valuables. Pawn shops require them for the purpose of entering them into the database. Keeping a list of serial numbers is also a good way to identify them if they get stolen and sold to a pawn shop.
Beyond the Pawn Shop Stolen Items Database: Additional Steps Pawn Shops Take
Before the emergence of computers in the 80’s and the use of emails and databases in the 90’s, pawnbrokers relied a lot on common sense and the seller’s appearance to spot thieves. Today, their skills of observation add to the efficiency of the database.
Sometimes people don’t notice the missing valuables right away. Others fail to report it to law enforcement right away for one reason or the other. If the item doesn’t end up on the database, pawn shops need different ways of identifying stolen goods. They do this in part by asking some of the same questions about the seller they used before the database came into place. Some examples include:
- Is the person acting suspiciously?
- Do they look too young to afford such a valuable item?
- How much does the seller know about the item?
- Is there any sign of tampering with the serial number?
- Are they hesitant to provide their ID?
Pawn shops aren’t obligated to make an offer on any item a person brings in. Even if there is nothing listed in the database, they may decide to pass anyway. If the pawn shop decides to pass on an item you bring in, it doesn’t mean they think it’s stolen! Pawn shops only accept certain items that they know they can sell. The problem is that the same valuables that pawn shops like to buy are those that are most often stolen.
Top Items Pawn Shops Buy
The types of items pawn shops buy depend somewhat on their location. The idea is to only accept those things that their customers will want to buy quickly. If something sits on their shelves for months, waiting for the right collector to walk inside, there is no money flowing into the shop for the purchase.
Although the top items vary among communities, some items are popular in almost every shop. They include:
- Precious Metals
- High-End Watches
- Musical Instruments
- Power Tools
The reason pawn shops like dealing in these types of products is that they are popular among all types of customers. People know they can get better quality items at a lower price by shopping at the pawn shop. These are also the types of items that attract thieves for the same reason. They are worth a lot of money and they are easy to sell.
One reason the pawn shop stolen items database is so helpful is that identifying stolen items like this can be especially difficult. When a young woman says she wants to sell her engagement ring because the engagement is off, all the pawn shop has is her word to go by.
If a man wants to sell his high-end power tools because he has been laid off from his construction job, how do you prove otherwise? With the database to serve as a reference, the pawnbroker may already have the information on the stolen goods when the thief walks in.
Today’s Thief: Not Always What You Expect
While TV has helped to give us a better picture of the ethical operations of pawn shops, it has somewhat muddied the image of what an average thief is like. Sophisticated art burglars stealing valuable paintings makes for good entertainment. But the reality is that the person stealing your valuables might be someone that you know.
Pawnbrokers have often spent years in the business and they have a good idea of how to judge people according to their appearance and actions. Most of us don’t even realize we need to judge our closest friends and family members.
Too often, the need for money overrides honesty and people make excuses to justify taking things that don’t belong to them. Seniors are especially vulnerable to theft. They often have more valuables around their homes and aren’t as likely to have access to the internet. A senior might not notice a missing family heirloom right away or know what to do about it when they do.
How to Protect Your Valuables
Everyone should take steps to secure their valuables at home and work. It only takes seconds for a thief to take something without notice. Keep a list of serial numbers in a safe place. For items like jewelry, take pictures and a written description to help distinguish them if they go missing.
Keep valuables under lock and key whenever possible. Just as tall fences create good neighbors, a good lockbox can prevent temptation in close friends and family members. It also ensures any service providers in your home don’t have easy access to your valuables.
Report any missing items immediately to law enforcement. They can enter them into the pawn shop stolen items database to make pawnshops aware of the stolen items. Whether you think you know who took your valuables or not, they are still yours and you have the right to get them back.
Monte de Piedad is an ethical pawn business in San Diego that gives back to our community. We have thirteen locations to conveniently serve the Greater San Diego Area. Contact us to learn more about the MDP Advantage and get answers to all of your questions about our pawn business. We genuinely care about our customers and the community that we rely on to make our business a success.