Update sought for old law regulating pawn shops

Off to the pawn shop . . .

Off to the pawn shop . . .

Some of the most complete collections of Nikon cameras and lens can be found at pawn shops downtown.

There’s a pretty good chance that the pawned camera equipment now up for sale did not come from a Costa Rican photographer. They appear to be the booty from thefts from tourists.

One could also question the source of a flat screen television that some character brings to a pawn shop at 3 a.m. Some of these businesses actually are open at such hours.

The pawn shops are called casas de compra-venta or de empeño. They are all over, and Costa Ricans, particularly those in tight economic brackets, make heavy use of them.

But so do crooks. Wednesday the security ministry said it would seek to update the laws covering the pawn shops. The original law dates from the 19th century, and the last update was in 1977, the ministry said. The announcement begs the question as to why there had not been tighter regulations earlier since such shops are where crooks are known to go to market their loot.

The new regulations will be a proposed law presented to the legislature by Celso Gamboa Sánchez, the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, the ministry said.

Under the draft, persons wishing to operate such a business will need to receive approval from the municipality.  The Superintendencia de Entidades Financieras, which oversees the financial sector, and the Superintendencia General de Valores, which now oversees the security market.

The pawn shops make loans with stiff interest on the items that are brought in as security. After a certain time period the shops sell the items if they are not redeemed.

The municipality would oversee the rules and require the pawn shop operator to post a bond.

The pawn shops would have to keep records of who pawned or purchased items, and they would have to issue formal invoices or facturas.

In addition, owners and employees would not be able to have criminal records.

The municipality would have the power to suspend the licensing for good reason.

Although many pawn shops maintain storefronts in business districts and some are successful chains, some are hidden away in what appear to be garages and old houses.

Obviously they cater to a specific clientele.

The proposed rules also would restrict operations to normal business hours.

The success of the measure would seem to depend on the vigor with which municipalities enforce the law if it is passed and the degree to which the law would drive some pawnshops further underground.

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