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November 23, 2010 > Stolen goods auctioned online

Stolen goods auctioned online

By Meenu Gupta

Stolen goods can be bought and it's legal. The public website PropertyRoom.com, also called "Steal It Back," makes it possible. Stolen property that law enforcement agencies are unable to return to rightful owners is auctioned online at a considerably lower price compared to its actual value. Professional bidders can find laptops, bicycles, professional music equipment, and computer equipment while fashionistas can bid for jewelry and name-brand designer pieces.

Founded in 1999 by Police Officers, the California-based company helps recycle recovered stolen goods that go unclaimed and stack up in police evidence rooms. The website works with more than 1,800 law enforcement agencies; auctions are run much like eBay, with a similar eclectic product mix.

"Any property that is abandoned or unclaimed from the evidence room, whether it was used as evidence or whether it was found for safekeeping, that is not contraband and has a retail value, we send it to the auctioneer," said Milpitas Property Clerk Deborah Souza. "They come every month and pick up our 'surplus property' and take it to their warehouse in Los Angeles. The goods are then cleaned, marked, tested, appraised, and advertised on the website for the public to bid," said Souza.

Milpitas Police Department has been a client of the website since 2001. "Revenue generated on an average is about $2,000 a year in auction, as most nice things get recovered right away," said Souza. The site is helpful in recycling goods.

"However, there are a few items that we auction ourselves on a different website called Public surplus.com. That website is reserved just for large items because Property room.com takes 50 percent of the proceeds besides charging the buyer for shipping the items out from their Los Angeles warehouse," she said. "So big items like bicycles and large tools that are too big to be shipped out and that will cost too much to shipped out we auction them right here from the building. Since we do the work ourselves, the site keeps only seven percent of the proceeds."

Fremont Police Department has used PropertyRoom.com since 2003 for auctions. "We also use Ernst Auction Park and have been with them since 1991. Our Property Bar Code System to track our inventory is in Tiburon," said Robin Neal, property officer with Fremont PD. "The auctions bring in a modest amount, usually around $5,000 a year," she said.

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