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catchathiefRandall comes home from an auction and tells his neighbor, “Boy, I stole some things at the auction today!”

In other words, Randall thinks he got some good deals …

That’s not what we’re talking about today.

Rather than talking about perceived theft, we’re talking about actual theft. Theft at personal property auctions basically comes in one (or more) of four forms:

    1. Attendees steal items yet put up for auction
    2. Attendees steal purchased items from other people
    3. Buyers steal things they have “bought” by not paying for them
    4. Attendees steal monies collected from the auction

What do auctioneers do to combat these types of crimes? Here’s some methods we’re seeing …

  • Enhanced registration. More and more auctioneers are using a thumb-print system, cameras and/or video at the registration area. Attending bidders wishing to be issued a bid card must have a valid driver’s license or other identification, provide a phone number and acquiesce to being video recorded, pictured and/or thumb-printed. Some auctioneers are requiring a valid credit card at registration, allowing them to charge all amounts assigned to each bid number.
  • Monitored entrance. Some auctioneers only allow entrance into the auction after verifying identification and/or meeting all other registration requirements. Nobody is permitted in until they are allowed to enter by the registration coordinator. This requirement is applied to those who wish to “just preview” as well.

  • Onsite security. Many auctioneers employ staff charged with “watching” attendees for possible theft. Additionally, some auctioneers hire armed uniformed police officers to both watch attendees as well as deter criminal activity. A police or sheriff vehicle sitting out front or otherwise in plain site can alert potential thieves of enhanced onsite security.
  • Security systems. Some auctioneers and auction houses have installed and use security cameras and video recording devices. Along with, many of these auctioneers place these cameras in plain site (and signs denoting such system are in use,) to be as much of a deterrent as a method of catching thieves.
  • Product placement. Many auctioneers strategically place certain items to discourage theft. Jewelry and the like can be locked in a display case, small valuable items can be held in a specific area with staff to monitor and entire areas can be partitioned or arranged in order to limit the number of attendees previewing at any one time.
  • Specific payment options. For many years, auctions only accepted cash and checks. With widespread credit card use, auctioneers then started to accept credit cards and debit cards. However, more recently, some auctioneers no longer accept checks and some are only accepting cash. These moves are in response to bad checks, and credit card chargebacks and fraud. However even cash can be carefully counterfeited.
  • Coordinated pickup. In this system, each item that is sold is moved to a secure area (or secured in its area) where the buyer can only take possession by showing proof of payment and proper identification. A staff member matches the printed paid invoice with the buyers driver’s license and the purchased items.
  • Exit verification. Some auctioneers and auction houses with discrete exit doors verify items and buyers as they leave. A staff member checks the items against a printed receipt or bid tickets ensuring no items are leaving without proof of payment.
  • Network alerts. As members of various state auctioneer associations, or otherwise as auctioneers build relationships with other auctioneers, many receive emails, telephone calls or texts, or other notifications that a thief has struck at another auction — providing other auctioneers names, addresses, descriptions, items involved, etc.
  • Filing charges. With confirmed theft of material amounts, most auctioneers are reporting such thefts to authorities, either filing police reports and/or contacting county or city prosecutor’s offices. Filing charges and following through on prosecutions facilitates recovery of stolen items and/or monies involved, and helps keep those individuals from striking again.

While theft may be increasing at personal property auctions, so too are efforts to combat such behavior.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. His Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.