Usually, you will only be able to find out from a Pawn Shop if a specific item was pawned if you are the owner of the item and you can prove it was stolen. It’s difficult to find out if a specific item has been pawned and by whom. States and cities have different laws on how much record-keeping and reporting pawnbrokers have to do. Even if your local pawnbroker still has a record of who pawned an item, they may not have to tell you.

If you’re searching for a particular item, you could visit your local pawnshops and see if it’s for sale, but remember: you’ll only find it on the shelf if it was sold or surrendered. According to statistics published by the National Pawnbrokers Association, most pawn loans — about 85 percent — are paid back. Items with active loans are locked away for safekeeping, so you won’t see them in the shop. Pawnshops have to keep items in perfect condition to maintain their value, so there’s no way to tell if an item was pawned by looking at it. Even if you find it on the shelf, the pawnbroker won’t tell you where it came from. Pawnbrokers have to keep customer information private, just like a bank. They won’t release a customer’s name unless it’s part of a legal investigation.

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How to Trace Your Lost or Stolen Property

When you discover that your valuables are missing, you must act quickly. The longer it takes to track your items down, the harder it will be to find them. If they’ve changed hands several times, you may never get them back. Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding and recovering your property.

Gather Proof of Ownership

You have to prove an item is really yours in order to track it or claim it. Collect any evidence you can that will help identify your property, prove its value, and show that it belongs to you. Helpful pieces of evidence include:

  • A receipt with a description or serial number
  • Product registration notices
  • An appraisal certificate
  • A jewelry grading report
  • An insurance inventory or rider on your policy with a detailed description
  • A receipt for engraving
  • Photographs of you with the item or of the item in your home

To help safeguard your other valuables, it’s a good idea to keep records like these in a secure place. A fireproof safe or safe deposit box will protect your physical records. You can also store copies of your records online. Ask your insurance company about online inventories; some companies have their own apps you can use for free.

File a Police Report

You may be leery of getting the police involved. What if your item is only lost? What if you suspect a good friend or family member might have taken it? You have to decide what’s more important — being embarrassed or getting your valuables back.

Making a police report puts the law on your side. Look at it from a stranger’s point of view. Anybody can walk into a pawn shop, point at a gold watch, and say, “That’s mine. It was stolen. Give it back!” The pawnbroker doesn’t know whether you’re a victim or a scammer. A police report is an official record that a specific item is missing and that you’re the rightful owner.

Starting a legal investigation opens doors. In most parts of the U.S., pawnbrokers have to give a daily list of pawned items to law enforcement. You can’t access those reports directly, but the police department can. Be sure to ask the officer assigned to your case to check those reports. It’s a good idea to check in regularly and ask them to review new reports again. Find your state pawn shop laws through these links from the National Pawnbrokers Association.

Ask your investigating officer to submit your police report to the Stolen Articles File at the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. This will make information about your stolen property available to police departments nationwide. The NCIC database is also indexed in some public search sites, which can help witnesses or innocent buyers discover your report.

Pawnbrokers also keep identification records on their customers. Local laws may require the shop to record a customer’s name and address, their driver’s license number or other ID, or even a fingerprint. However, pawnbrokers are regulated by the same customer-privacy laws as banks and other lenders. They can’t release information about their customers to anyone except law enforcement officers.

If it turns out that you can’t get your belongings back, you’ll need the police report anyway to make an insurance claim. So it’s best to get one right away.

Start Looking Locally

It’s time to go shopping. Grab the phone book or search for pawnshops near you. Visiting every shop will take time, so you should start as soon as possible.

When pawnbrokers buy an item, they have to hold it for a certain period of time before they can sell it. The length of the waiting period varies from state to state. It may be as short as seven days, or as long as thirty. If you didn’t notice your item was missing right away, you could be racing the clock.

If you do locate your property, don’t try to make a claim on the spot. Ask to look at the item. Check it over and make sure it’s really yours. When you’re sure, act like an interested buyer and ask the pawnbroker if they’ll hold the item for you. When you leave the shop, call the police and let them know you’ve located your property. They’ll walk you through the process of reclaiming it.

There’s a chance you might have to buy back the item or reimburse the pawnbroker for the amount of the loan. The loan amount is usually a fraction of the item’s value. In some states, you might have to take the pawnbroker to court to get your money back. Talk to your investigating officer about the best way to handle your claim.

Register Your Loss Online

Most pawn shops aren’t open 24/7, so use the downtime in your search to take advantage of online resources. Here are five websites that can help you locate your stolen property.

  • FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center: If you find someone trying to sell your items online, you can make a complaint directly to the FBI. You’ll need to identify yourself and give as much detail as you can about the crime and the value of your stolen property. Take a screenshot of the listing, the seller’s contact information, and any emails or messages you exchanged. File your complaint with the FBI online.
  • Jewelers’ Security Alliance: The Alliance maintains a database of watches, jewelry, diamonds, and precious stones that have been reported stolen. Reputable re-sellers can use this database to check the history of items they’ve received. Law enforcement can also access the listings to trace stolen goods. You’ll need a police report, proof of the item’s value, and a way to distinguish your unique item (like serial numbers or a gemstone grading report). The Alliance will review your listing and include it in the database if it’s verified and complete. You can’t list other valuables like artwork, furs, stamps or coins. Report your stolen jewelry to the Alliance.
  • LeadsOnline: LeadsOnline is a nationwide database for businesses (like pawn shops) to report regulated transactions. Local police departments can subscribe to search for stolen property outside their own area and across state lines. Ask your investigating officer whether their department uses LeadsOnline. If not, the company will still let them access the database to investigate your stolen property. The request has to come from law enforcement, but you can read more about LeadsOnline at their website.
  • Pawn Alert: You can help your property find you by placing a public listing with this paid service. Pawn shops, secondhand dealers, and police departments use this database to check on items they receive. Members of the public can also register and search the database. Pawn Alert sends out a daily report of new listings to its subscribers. You’ll need to create an account and then you can buy credits to post items. For 99 cents per item, you can post a detailed description. For $1.99 you can include up to three photos. Create a user account at Pawn Alert.
  • Stolen 911: This free listing site will post your item’s description and photos for one year. If you haven’t recovered your property, you can renew the post every year for free. Your post will be indexed by all major search engines, and you can share it on social media to get the word out. The objective is to alert anyone searching for an item like yours, so they can contact you if they find it. You do have to register to create a post, but the registration is quick and easy. Stolen 911 will also create a custom Google search to see if your item has been listed for sale on Craigslist anywhere in the country. Search for your stolen item or create a listing for your stolen item.

How to Check If You’ve Received Stolen Property

Buying secondhand electronics, jewelry, or musical instruments can be a great way to save money. Unfortunately, it can also get you involved in a crime without knowing it. If you have a suspicious feeling about the seller or the deal seems too good to be true, do some checking. Peace of mind is priceless. Here are three websites you can search to check if your new purchase or gift might have been reported stolen:

  • Pawn Alert: Anyone can become a member and search the Pawn Alert database. You’ll need to create an account and then buy credits for your membership. For $6.95 you can buy a one-day pass for up to 20 searches. For $17.99 per month, you can perform up to 100 searches. An annual membership is $69.00, which gets you unlimited searches. Create a user account at Pawn Alert.
  • Stolen 911: A search on any major index (Yahoo, Bing, Google) for your item’s brand and model plus the word “stolen” will most likely pull up any results on Stolen 911. You can also browse their listings by category. If you recognize an item that was posted as stolen, you can use a button inside the listing to submit a tip to the owner and law enforcement.
  • Trace: This national database gives public access to information on stolen articles reported to the National Crime Information Center at the FBI. Anyone can register and search the Trace database for free. You’ll need to create an account and provide the serial number of the item you’re checking on. Register at TraceChecker.com.

In Summary

Finding out whether someone pawned an item is on a “need to know” basis. If it wasn’t stolen from you (or you can’t prove it), then as far as the pawn shop is concerned, you don’t need to know.

If you’re searching for your lost or stolen property, you may be able to find it in the pawn system. You’ll need to file a police report and provide proof of ownership. But work quickly, or your item may have moved around several times and be impossible to trace. We provide step-by-step guidance on what documents you’ll need, what to ask the investigators, and how to help the police find your items quickly.

You can also find out if an item you bought or got as a gift might have been stolen. We provide three useful websites to check your new property and put your concerns to rest.