False perceptions give local pawn shops a misleading reputation

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Pawn shops and second hand stores are the homes of guitars, guns and jewelry, yet are recently coming under heavy scrutiny.

Pawn shops are often portrayed in movies as dark places influencing illegal acts and promoting drug use and violence. Perhaps this false stigma causes some people, including BYU students, to shy away from these secondhand stores. Brent Johnson, co-owner of AAA Trading and Pawn Inc. in Provo, estimates only around one percent of his customers are students. Students who use his loan services are even fewer.

Pawn shops across the county are coming into question with how they acquire goods.

Recent legislation is making an attempt to reduce the incidents of illegality in pawn shops and eliminate this bad reputation. In March 2011, a bill passed as a sort of protection for pawn shop owners. Under the new bill, police cannot claim items from pawn shops as stolen material without greater consent. The law states  the item would have to be involved in criminal investigation for either fingerprints, DNA or criminal evidence.

Johnson said before this legislation, it was frustrating when police would simply walk in and seize items from their store. He said about .5 percent of the items which have ever gone through his store were obtained illegally. Andre Romero, an employee at AAA Trading, said there were several incidents where someone would pawn an item to them and take the money to buy, in most incidents, illegal drugs. Then, the police would show up a few days later, usually with a parent of the seller, and seize the item. This left the pawn shops short on money, and the seller successfully scams the store.

State Sen. Curtis Bramble said this new legislature helps to keep the pawn shops in business and brings assurance for all parties.

“There was certainty for law enforcement, certainty for the alleged owner, and for the pawn shop owner,” Bramble said.

There have been incidents in which the stolen item is really stolen. In these cases, the law states the victim can seek restitution from the thief while the pawn shop holds the item involved in the criminal case. Theft identification is particularly easy thanks to pawn shop protocol. If worse comes to worse, the victim can buy back their item while waiting for restitution.

“We’re doing our due justice,” Romero said. “We’re doing thumbprints and serial numbers on every item. ”

All pawn shops have forms for sellers to fill out. Required information includes basic contact info, fingerprinting, photo identification, and serial numbers for items if applicable. This information is then downloaded to the police every night. This way, when someone brings in an item, if it is stolen, it is much less difficult for law enforcement to not only find the thief, but also run background checks. Even with these preventive measures, Romero says it’s unfortunate people still use their services for criminal means.

Technology has also made it more difficult for pawn shop owners to garner business from local students.

“(Students) probably go online to buy on KSL or Craigslist,” Romero said. “Some kids do come,  but when they’re looking, they’re online seeing what it’s going for.”

Romero said if he could have it his way, they would specialize in just loans. He said he would rather help people get back on their feet than worry about selling televisions and tools.

“We don’t want all of this inventory,” Romero said. “We’re just here for a service.”

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