Pawn shops can play role in organized shoplifting

In addition to a rise in drug use, several Lebanon County police chiefs pointed to pawn shops as a reason that retail theft calls have increased in recent years.

They aren’t the only ones to draw the connection between shoplifting and selling: defendants in county drug cases have explained the link themselves.

According to an affidavit filed against the owner of JT’s Buy and Sell in Lebanon this spring, a member of a retail theft ring bragged that they were treated like “rock stars” whenever they brought stolen goods to the pawn shop. Several other criminals are alleged to have sold stolen goods at JT’s, and the owner of Pot of Gold Buy and Sell Shop was also accused in July of accepting items he should have believed were stolen, according to a press release from the district attorney’s office.

Buy-and-sell stores are prevalent in Lebanon — nine shops reported more than $1.2 million of payout in 2014, according to official documents — and direct sale of stolen goods is not the only way thieves can take advantage of irresponsible stores. Some retail outlets, for example, have policies to reimburse returned items with gift certificates, so a thief will “return” an unpurchased item, take the gift card, and then sell it to a pawn store, said Michelle Tuscano of Lebanon Valley Mall.

However, some of the area’s buy-and-sells are trying to shed the negative reputation acquired by their bad-actor colleagues.

 

George Rodriguez, manager of Goldmax Express on Eighth Street in Lebanon, said the shop follows laws designed to ensure it purchases only legitimate items. City of Lebanon ordinances require such stores to obtain proof of the seller’s identification, hold items for 15 days before selling them, and make a daily report of their purchases.

“I think the police department and everybody knows we’re the real deal,” Rodriguez said.

Pawn shops can now use the PawnMaster software to check a seller's name against criminal records and problems at other stores, he said. Goldmax is also in frequent contact with police and check public records and newspapers to stay abreast of individuals engaged in retail theft.

Beyond that, evaluating a seller can come down to common sense, he said. If a person keeps bringing in new items every day, has an inherently suspicious item like a new iPhone, or refuses to provide identification, it’s time to be skeptical. The store also asks questions before agreeing to a purchase, although it is important to strike a balance and not be rude to honest sellers, he said.

“You don’t want to be rude, because there are some people that just need some quick cash,” he said. “You have to use your best judgment.”

George Rodriguez, manager of Goldmax Express on Eighth Street in Lebanon, said the shop follows the law.Goldmax can be seen looking through the windows of the former JT's, closed for alledgedly purchasing stolen goods. (Photo: Michael K. Dakota, Lebanon Daily)

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