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Stolen goods find way into flea markets

August 01, 2000

Stolen goods find way into flea markets



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer


Finding a name brand item for a price that seems like a steal at a flea market could be just that, local authorities say.

It has become common for criminals to sell stolen items at flea markets because the markets aren't regulated, said Hagerstown City Police Capt. Charles Summers.

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"Years ago people used pawn shops to fence stolen goods. Once they became regulated, they went on to the next unregulated venue," Summers said.

Pawn shops require sellers to provide identification and they keep inventories of their merchandise, he said.

On the other hand, vendors and customers at flea markets or at roadside stands come and go, making them difficult to track.

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"Flea markets are big and crowded and it's easy to dispose of things," Summers said.

Two men recently charged in Washington County with 22 counts of burglary are believed to have unloaded much of their stolen merchandise, including a lawn mower, at flea markets, said Washington County Sheriff's Department Detective Chris Weaver.

Weaver said that in the four years he has been an investigator he has noticed that an increasing number of criminals are using flea markets to sell stolen goods to the public.

"It seems to have become a pattern," he said.

Shoppers in Frederick County, Md., need to be particularly careful in light of a recent series of retail thefts in the area, according to Maryland State Police in Frederick.

State police said stolen items range from prom gowns to watches.

Since January, state police have documented a loss of more than $27,000 in merchandise from Frederick County businesses.

"The citizens are reminded to be ever vigilant for individuals selling name brand products at unusually cheap prices at flea markets, parking lots or online shopping sites," police said in a press release.

A $4,000 lawn mower being sold for as little as $1,200 should be a warning that the item might be contraband, according to Summers.

People caught buying stolen merchandise could be charged and ignorance is not a defense if there are obvious signals that an item might be hot, he said.

A lack of original packaging or manuals for new items could indicate they have been stolen, as can scratched off serial numbers, he said.

Consumers should be wary when shopping at flea markets and rely on their own consciences when deciding whether to make a purchase that seems like a steal, he said.

"Keep your eyes open. If it seems too good to be true it probably is," Summers warned.

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