Spot On: The game-resale crackdown

Some communities now require anyone selling used video games to give fingerprints for police records. The question is: Why?

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Some stores that buy used video games have begun to take their customers’ fingerprints so that the ink impressions can be turned over to police. However, the stores reveal that they’re just complying with local laws.

In addition to recording the drivers' licenses, telephone numbers, and addresses of customers who sell used games or consoles, some stores are routinely requiring thumbprints as well. Retailers are collecting the information under a law intended to regulate pawn shops and make it easy for law enforcement officials to track down thieves who fence stolen goods. A number of states have such laws, and Utah passed its own version just last month.

In California, the law has been on the books for more than a decade, but with the increased market for used games and DVDs, some retailers are taking a cautious approach and are collecting fingerprints just to make sure they don’t run afoul of local regulations.

Executive Director of the National Pawnbrokers Association Bob Benedict said that while pawnbrokers are regulated by a variety of local, state, and federal laws that require them to track customer information, states that require fingerprints are in the minority. GameStop, a Grapevine, Texas-based national chain with about 1,500 stores, is one of the companies that is requiring its customers to give thumbprints in some stores.

"We at GameStop make every effort to act in accordance with local regulations," company representative Matt Hodges said. "Where there are specific legal requirements, GameStop is complying."

Director of Marketing Liz O’Sullivan, a representative of GameStop’s rival, Electronics Boutique, said that, as a general rule, her chain does not collect such information but does comply with all local laws.

What those regulations are can change from city to city, and it’s often up to a city’s chief of police to make the call on which types of businesses will be required to collect fingerprints, Inspector Bob Rogers of the San Francisco Police Department said. The California law makes the requirement for "tangible personal property." Legally, that doesn’t mean items that can be touched but, rather, valuable goods that are frequently stolen--such as jewelry--Rogers said.

While pawnbrokers are required to record everything they take in, the law has caused confusion for other stores that buy used CDs, DVDs, or games. One video-rental store in San Francisco consulted with police before finally deciding to collect information from all of its customers who sold used items--just to be on the safe side.

"The issue where it’s tricky is this issue of tangible personal property," Rogers said. "They [people] may not understand that, or they [people] may be just trying to completely comply with the law by recording everything they take in."

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