Usually, you will only be able to find out if something was pawned by checking pawn shops directly. If you can prove you’re the owner of the item and it was stolen, you may be able to get it back.
However, 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.
Remember that you’ll only find items on the shelf at pawn shops if they’ve been sold or surrendered. Items with active loans are locked away for safekeeping, so you won’t see them in the shop.
Below, we explain more about what to do if you think something you own has been pawned.
How to Find Out If Someone Pawned Something
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 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 the National Pawnbrokers Association.
Ask your investigating officer to submit your police report to the Stolen Articles File at the FBI. 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, according to the National Pawnbrokers Association. 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: 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 case and the value of your stolen property. Take a screengrab 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 find out more about LeadsOnline at their website.
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 illegal activity 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 is one website you can search to check if your new purchase or gift might have been reported stolen:
- Trace: This national database gives public access to information on stolen articles reported to 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.