Every year thousands of Americans are victims of home burglaries, losing millions of dollars in possessions. A good portion of those stolen items will end up in pawn shops as criminal try to turn your stuff into cash. Here's what you need to know to improve your odds at recovering your stuff.
Working with the Police
To be able to claim your property should you find it, you need to have its theft documented in a police report. You should provide the police with as much information as you can about your stolen items. For electronics, this would include the brand, model, and serial number of the item. For other items you should include a detailed description of the item, including any identifying marks such as personalization or engraving.
Once you have a detailed police report, you should make sure a copy of the report gets to the pawn shop detail. Some departments may not call it this, so inquire as to which detail regulates pawn shops to make sure your information gets to the right place. Pawn shop details typically enter item data from pawn tickets completed by local pawn shops and review those tickets for stolen goods. These groups are typically understaffed, so expect to do a lot of legwork yourself in trying to recover your item.
Know the Pawn Process
In theory, items aren't sold to pawn shops. Customers bring in items that the pawn shop then holds as collateral for a loan made to the customer. The customer can then return to the pawn shop within a certain amount of time to repay the loan and reclaim their item. A typical hold period before an item is released for sale is 30 days from the date it is pawned. Because items can't go on the shelf for a while after they are pawned, searching for items immediately after they are stolen is fruitless. Stolen items are likely to turn up on pawn shop shelves 30 to 60 days after being stolen, often in a different part of town from where the crime occurred.
It is important to remember that pawn shops are in business to make money, not to help you get your stuff back.If you do find your item in a pawn shop, don't tell the shop it is yours! Remember the shop has already paid money for the item which they will lose if the item is in fact stolen. Act interested in the item, ask the shop to hold it for you, and then leave the shop to call police. Provide the responding officer a copy of the police report detailing the stolen item and have him or her take possession of it from the shop.
Get back your stuff
Once the police take possession of your item from the pawn shop, the work is not done yet. The item will likely go into police impound where it will be held until ownership can be established in a court property hearing, where you will be able to claim the item is yours. If the judge finds the item is yours in the property hearing, you will then take that ruling to the police impound to retrieve your item.
Your odds of reclaiming your property are relatively low, but it can be done. After two and a half years, my brother-in-law was able to recover a personalized guitar from a pawn shop with some help. Scouring dozens of pawn shops is a momumental task, so use the interest to help you if your item is individualized or somehow distinctive. Post periodic messages on Craiglist describing the item and the circumstances of its theft. Do the same for any relevant online user groups and forums. It was a Craiglist user that saw my brother-in-law's post and told him the pawn shop where he had recently seen the guitar.
You can get your stuff back, but you have to know the process and be very persistent.