MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) With over 125 break-ins and burglaries reported just last week in Horry County, now more than ever, experts say it's better to protect yourself and your belongings to prevent being ripped off.
"I know it was my property, and I don't have any doubt in my mind that it was my property at all," said Vicki McCutcheon, a Myrtle Beach resident who learned the hard way why protecting yourself against theft can't be ignored.
McCutcheon told WMBF News in an interview earlier this month that after learning an $800 pearl necklace had been stolen from her own home, it ended up in a pawn shop where store owners refused to return her own possessions.
"She wanted to charge me $800 to buy back my own property. I was furious and I just was appalled," McCucheon added.
To prevent others from experiencing the same problems, Vicki and Horry County Police both offered advice to WMBF News viewers about what they can do to make sure stolen merchandise doesn't end up in a store counter.
"If it's not on an official police report, it's kinda hard to prove that it was stolen," said Sgt. Robert Kegler of Horry County Police when asked why some people who have stolen property have a hard time getting it returned.
In what's become a daily assignment for detectives inside Horry County Police, pawn shop owners and investigators trade information on each item being turned in to be sold. That information, created on a pawn slip, is then cross referenced with HCPD's stolen items report as well as information with the National Crime Information Center or NCIC.
"Anything that has a serial number on it, document it somewhere, write it down on a sheet of a paper, keep that tucked away somewhere," added Kegler. Without a serial number HCPD and other police agencies stress it's nearly impossible to compare a stolen iPod to one just pawned by a legitimate owner.
Pawn shop manager Jimmy Strange of Little River Pawn gave WMBF News a behind the scenes look at how his store keeps stolen items from ever ending up behind his counter.
"We have to get a picture ID from everybody we do business with, and we are regulated by the Consumer Affairs Department of South Carolina, not to mention the police department," said Strange.
Grand Strand pawn shops are required by law not to re-sell merchandise a customer has pawned off for at least seven days. That regulation, experts suggest, allows any stolen property to have enough time to be reported to police and be cataloged by store employees.
For our WMBF News special report, Little River Pawn agreed to demonstrate how a pawned item is cataloged, collected, and secured until it's given the all clear by store management before being sold.
As for McCutcheon and her stolen pearls, she says it's heartbreaking to think something that was once considered a family heirloom will never be seen again.
"When this happens to you, it makes you want to feel like putting locks on every door, and you can't live like that," added McCutcheon.