I’m a pawnbroker. Here’s how I deal with shady customers, fakes, and the occasional boa constrictor.

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A pawnshop jewelry display in Germany.
A pawnshop display in Germany.

  • Nick Fulton has been working in the pawnshop industry for 30 years.
  • Pawnbrokers ask for identification as one of their safeguards against pawning stolen items.
  • Unlike the movies, where pawn transactions can be quick, you may have to be patient during yours.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Nick Fulton, a pawnbroker based in Jackson, Mississippi, about the pawn industry. It’s been edited for length and clarity.

I’ve been working in the pawnshop industry for almost 31 years. I’ve been the president of the Mississippi Pawnbrokers Association for four years, and prior to that, I was a board member. I’m also a previous board member of the National Pawnbrokers Association. 

Nick Fulton in a gray suit on a stage.
Nick Fulton.

One of the most common reasons why people pawn off or sell items is because of unexpected bills; it might be for medical costs, a flat tire, or just dealing with inflation now. Gas prices are also a common reason why people sell or pawn items now. 

If you’re making what you did last year and you have an unexpected expense, it might take longer than a day to get a bank loan. At a pawnshop, you can walk out with money in your hand in minutes. You don’t have to have credit; you just need to have the merchandise to back it up.  

Setting prices is quite intuitive

Pawnbrokers check sites such as eBay and Amazon, just like everyone else.

The risk of buying something from a client falls on the pawnbroker first and foremost. When setting prices to buy an item, the pawnbroker has to make sure the client doesn’t want to return for it. We have to make sure the item is something we can later sell and that we can make a profit off of. 

If the item is rare or valuable, like a Super Bowl ring or other kind of jewelry, the pawnbroker needs to be able to research it and determine its value. Low-quality jewelry stones will get you less money, and higher quality stones will get you more. Clients can come in prepared to negotiate by using sites such as eBay, which pawnbrokers also use every day. 

Negotiating also depends on how many items I have in the store that are similar. If I have three televisions and 50 laptops for sale, I’m going to be more inclined to learn about the TV than I am about the laptop. Things that are rare get more money. 

Some items require extra inspection

This inspection can be due to legal restrictions (which vary by state), because they quickly depreciate in value, and/or to check their authenticity. Every state has its own set of laws around pawning, but the average pawnshop loan around the country is $150.

Of course, people do try to pawn or sell us strange items. Someone tried to pawn a boa constrictor once. In the 1500s and 1600s, you could pawn things like bread and potatoes. That’s how pawnshops got their start, but don’t bring in items like that today! 

There’s also a difference between pawning and selling. You have to let a pawnbroker know if you want a loan, otherwise known as a pawn, and that you want to come back for the item. Mississippi state law requires us to hold a pawned item for 30 days plus another 30-day grace period. If a person wants to sell an item, we only have to hold onto it for 14 days.

There are many items that take longer to determine their value. For example, with laptops, I need to know what model and year it is, how much memory it has, and what condition it’s in. There’s also a lot of counterfeit merchandise, so we have procedures in place to test for the authenticity of luxury items and gold. If you bring in a luxury item, you’ll need to be at the store for longer than a few minutes while we authenticate it. 

The best thing you can do if you’re unsure about the process or an item is to call a pawnshop or send a message through its social media page and ask if they accept it. 

Pawnbrokers really do care about ensuring items aren’t ill-gotten

Pawning or selling an item is a pretty simple transaction.  A person must have a state-issued photo ID, license, or some kind of identification from the state that has the person’s name, address, and phone number so we can establish who they are. This is important to confirm so that we can make sure the item belongs to the person. If they don’t have an ID, we all end up wasting a lot of time.

Our pawn system is set up so that every morning, we upload a description of our merchandise and serial numbers to a national database that police all across the country can access. That helps catch people who may be dealing with stolen merchandise. 

Once we find out that someone has dealt with stolen merchandise, they get blocked in our system. We lose money when something is taken and seized from us, so we don’t do business with people who steal items after they’re caught. 

The job is delightful, and there’s never a dull moment

It’s easier than ever to work in a pawnshop thanks to the internet. You used to have to check newspapers on Sundays to check an item’s worth. Teaching our employees is an ongoing process. We train them on how to check Rolex watches, diamonds, gold, and how to test for fake merchandise. 

Sometimes customers come in for the first time because they have to borrow money, and they can be a bit curt with us. We’ve been doing this for a long time, so we understand that. We try to put ourselves in the customer’s shoes and walk them through the process. 

If we think someone is going to be trouble, we try not to do business with them. We don’t accept foul language or racism. If a customer doesn’t want to hear what a female employee has to say and would rather listen to a male employee when dealing with tools, for example, that’s a red flag. 

Pawnshops also have to adapt

Some pawnshops are almost back to pre-COVID normal, but I think we’re going to see more pawnshops close in the near future. It’s getting harder to compete with places like Amazon and Facebook Marketplace. We sell a lot of our items on the internet ourselves. 

If a pawnshop is not with the times, it’s probably going to have to close its doors. 

Read the original article on Business Insider
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