- The first of these businesses I want to talk about are scrap yards. I am sure everyone has seen these huge plots of land filled with various scrap metals and cars. These yards have been around for ages and really haven't caused all that much trouble in the past. Most of the time scrappers simply go around picking up cars, appliances and other scrap pieces of metal from the curb of a household that doesn't want it anymore, and they take it to sell at these scrap yards. Most of the time they'd get a hundred dollars for the amount in a pick-up truck or some other amount depending on what kinds of metals that they have brought in. This worked pretty good because home owners who couldn't afford to pay to have their oversize garbage taken away found it gone the next morning. I get rid of lots of things that I know I can't sell but someone else can use and I can't afford to drive it somewhere to donate it.
- The second business is very similar to the scrap yards, as it deals with selling electronics or gold or some other items for cash. Mind you, pawn shops have been around for a long time. You take in small items, and they give you a bit of cash for it, and you can either leave it behind forever or come back to get it when you have the money to pay the loan back. Simple enough. But now there are places that buy more specific things like gold, electronics, phones, etc. These places will usually recycle the items much like at a scrap yard and your items are gone forever.
- The third business has to do with gift cards. In the past gift certificates were non-transferable pieces of paper that one could buy from a business if they didn't know what to get someone from that store. The person could bring it in and use it as cash to buy something they actually wanted. Certificates changed to gift cards when the technology for card swiping machines were included in nearly every store as the credit card companies expanded. Around the 1990s everyone could get credit cards and so businesses started selling gift cards, cash cards, phone cards, you name it. But what if someone bought you a card for a business you didn't like? Suddenly there were websites popping up to exchange the cards. Then, more recently, there are kiosks that could exchange cards for cash. The company would take a small profit for the card, but you got money instead of a card you couldn't use. More recently, CoinStar is starting to exchange these cards as well, making it less of a local program to a wide-spread problem. (I say problem as you'll soon find out).
All of these companies and businesses fill a need in our consumerist driven society. How to get rid of something you don't need to get something you do need - money. That's all fine and dandy. I, like everyone else, needs money to get by. These ideas on paper probably look really good and for many people, they use these businesses rarely and use them honestly.
However, there's a catch. What if these offerings are not used honestly? What if people start selling other's items to get money for themselves?
Sure, you see pawnshops in every lower class area, every 'ghetto' area, everywhere that people start finding they're just scratching by. I won't even talk about loans and check advance places or gambling places because they all have their own problems and you'll see them everywhere as well. Most of the time these places move into a bad neighborhood, but as things change they get forced out by a changing economy and eventually the run down neighborhood gets a face lift and the pawn shop moves away.
But what if the area doesn't make a comeback? What if things make a turn for the worse when something like the Great Recession of 2008 happens? There's a huge bankruptcy crises, mortgages collapse because banks let people over-borrow, they go into dept because of credit cards, and large businesses that never had trouble staying afloat are suddenly buried.
Suddenly homeowners are forced to leave their homes in foreclosure. The honest ones will leave their houses quickly but fairly intact. The others, instead of being able to crawl out of the debt by moving on, take every scratch of appliance, every wire, everything that isn't nailed down (and even some that are) and run to the nearest scrap yard to sell it. That doesn't get them out of debt, it merely helps them survive. They run out of things to sell and so they start taking things to sell. They steal from friends and family, they steal from empty houses on the street and take pool pumps and air conditioning units. They take copper wires and clear out entire homes of everything that could bring them a bit of spare change. Suddenly these people allow themselves to do corrupt things in order to just get by.
I digress... the reason for this blog is to point out that these ideas that should be helping honest people are merely helping thieves. Thieves will steal purses and backpacks to steal phones and laptops. They don't use these items because they need them, they steal them to sell. They break into cars and into homes to steal and pawn TVs and computer equipment. The police can't track them down or won't unless the items are worth just so much, and if they find out the owner has insurance, then they won't bother at all. The items will just get replaced. That, in turn, makes the insurance fees go up and it causes those people who were stealing to go around without insurance because they can't afford it any more.
Gift card kiosks are the worst of these businesses in the last few years. It's stores that get hurt because they're trying to be nice to the honest people. Here's how it works: Thief knows that store will take back merchandise without a receipt and give them a gift card in return. So they go in and steal stuff. Maybe they'll have a crew that steals and a crew that 'returns' the items. The person who 'returns' these items takes the gift card they get and takes it to the kiosk. They get free money. It might be $20, but for some of these people it's enough to buy a meal and some drugs. Most of them are usually out for the drugs since food stamps pay for the food. So the stores are out the money, but if they refuse to do the return, they're out the items. If they take back the stolen items, the store shows an extra in their stock and when they have inventory they'll come up short which takes a hit on their theft shrinkage. That means they'll get hit twice, first with the theft of money, and then with the supposed theft of items in inventory.
But thieves don't stop there. Eventually the thieves realize that the store isn't cooperating and if they find out that it's too easy to steal things, they'll go to great lengths to get tons of things out the front door. I've seen huge boxes and carts full of things leaving the door. I don't work in a retail establishment that sells food or items of great value, nothing that these people would need to live. So what are they doing with these items? Pawning most likely, some of it. Flea markets maybe. Selling it to other businesses that buy items for money, I'm sure. Whatever big score they can get to buy them a bag of drugs or some money to feed their kids.
And what is stopping these thieves? These businesses say they track these people. They say they only let people get just so much money a day... But how do they stop them if they use fake IDs? Many of these people have drivers licences as well as just IDs... And I'm not sure why the government is allowing this, but I won't get into that. What I'm saying, however, is that there's nothing stopping these people from getting multiple "IDs" with various addresses and they can get around all of the rules in place to stop them from fraud.
What I hope though, is that these businesses would take a much better look at how people are going to use their product. Will this cell phone sell-back service cause theft from honest people? How can this business be abused? If every business would take a step back before promoting their product and ask, "can this go wrong?" I think perhaps that thieves would have to think twice in order to make a profit. Businesses are losing money because they aren't planning ahead. Sure, if everyone was honest, putting that gift card kiosk in the store would be great. You would make a profit and customers could have the convenience of buying a card for a gift. However, what about those people buying gift cards with stolen credit cards?
How about we all just start looking at the world with a bit more suspicion. I like to be optimistic when the economy is starting to bounce back after our recession, but there are too many out there who have gotten used to this dishonest system. They take advantage because the system has taken advantage of them. Maybe someday these people will all get jobs and be productive members of the society again, perhaps the government will give them a reason to, but more likely these people will keep doing what they are doing, teach their kids to do the same, and if we don't stop them from doing these things, it will continue to get worse and worse.
So, I plead with new business owners and these people who are thinking about starting up the 'next great thing' - ask yourself, "How can this be abused?" Don't put it into practice if only a few honest people will actually be able to take advantage of this and a few hundred thieves are using it daily. Take a good hard look at what protections you have in place. Then, not only will your business thrive because thieves aren't taking advantage of you, but the honest person will also trust you to know that you're taking care of them too.
EDIT ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: It was brought to my attention that of course not all homeowners forced to allow their homes go into foreclosure are thieves and vandals. Some, like those in the military, may have to move and cannot sell their homes and have to forfeit the home they bought. There are others, as well who just have financial crises and family problems, job lose, etc. In this article, I'm talking only about those people who, instead of finding ways to make ends meet honestly, turn to making a quick buck as an answer. There may be some people who turn to this life of crime or vandalism once and then find their way out again without letting anything get on their permanent records. However, there are still so many more out there who allow themselves to be swept up with the lie that "it's okay because everyone is doing it" or "just one more time and I'll quit this drug and won't need the money anymore."
I sincerely believe that anyone, anyone can go through a hard time in their lives due to unforeseen circumstances. A job can be taken out from under them, a loved one can die, a tornado or flood can take out a house where insurance won't cover it... Good people (and I believe everyone can be good, but it's much harder to do sometimes than to be bad) will try to crawl out of their situation even if that means taking a part-time job that pays squat, or they'll give up and start over again somewhere new. It might be hard, but there's always an honest way out, so long as one is willing to put everything they have into it. The problem exists in the 'easy dollar' or trying to find some way out that usually results in a temporary solution that tends to hurt not only the person doing it, but those around them as well. And perhaps if businesses paid their employees enough to live, they wouldn't have so many employees stealing from them and adding to a whole set of other problems! But...that is for another day.