The fence is a new look at the world of property theft. As everyone knows, property is stolen if it was obtained by any theft, burglary, robbery or extortion. Knowing the property is stolen depends on the subjective and actual knowledge of the receiver of goods.
“Fencing” – the crime of buying and reselling stolen merchandise and is one of the links that binds theft to the larger social system.
A fence (as a noun) is an individual who knowingly buys stolen property for later resale, sometimes in a legitimate market. As a verb, the word describes the behavior of the thief in the transaction: The burglar fenced the stolen radio.
All fences are by definition businessmen: They are middlemen in commerce – albeit illegitimate commerce – providing goods and services to others, regardless of whether they operate from a legitimate business or rely solely on individual resources.
Note: If a person who had possession of the stolen property was the person who stole the goods, then the appropriate charge would be Theft.
Many people are not aware that the offence of handling stolen goods carries a maximum penalty of 14 years, which is as high as that available for domestic burglary the intention of the legislation (Section 22 of the Theft 1968) being to punish and deter those creating a demand for stolen goods and therefore motivating thieves to steal. And yet this intention has been strangely neglected by all but the handful of social commentators, police officers lawyers and criminologists who have raised the issue of stolen goods from time to time.
The fence is able to make a profit with stolen merchandise because he is able to pay thieves a very low price for stolen goods.
Fencing remains a rather poorly researched area in criminology! Firstly, because it often wears the cloak of legitimate business and is carried out in a rational, business-like manner. Second, because fencing is a crime with low visibility and is conducted in secrecy. Third, the cloak of secrecy and the maintenance of a legitimate ”front” make detailed investigation difficult.
Note: Fencing is illegal almost everywhere, usually under a similar rationale as in the United States, where receipt of stolen property is a crime in every state, as well as a federal crime if the property crossed a state line.
Stolen goods markets facilitate the demand that drives much property theft. Even though stolen goods dealers and consumers create the demand for stolen goods, police and crime reduction efforts remain firmly focused on thieves. Police agencies close many property crime investigations once they arrest the thieves, and pay less attention to tracking the stolen property.
The fence provides a readily available outlet for marketing stolen (“hot”) merchandise.
The legal requirements for demonstrating that fencing has occurred are complex. There are three elements to the crime:
- The property must have been stolen;
- The property must have been received or concealed (though the fence may not have actually seen or touched it);
- The receiver must have accepted it with knowledge that it was stolen.
The supply-and-demand relationship is not always this simple. The relationship between people’s willingness to buy stolen goods and others’ readiness to steal them is sometimes complex (Ferman, Henry, and Hoyman, 1987).
E-fencing has become very popular with the advent of the Internet. E-fencing is the sale of stolen merchandise on the Internet. Law enforcement is regularly surfing the Internet searching for thieves who are selling stolen wares. The success of law enforcement efforts on the Internet is reflected in the rise of conviction rates.
Finally, the saying ”if no fences, then no thieves” ignores that official complicity of some kind is often required if the prospective fence hopes to buy and sell stolen goods regularly and for a long time (Henry 1977; Klockars 1974; Steffensmeier and Ulmer 2005). Sometimes the official protection of fences is an outgrowth of the corruption of law enforcement on a large scale.
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