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Police cities try to keep up with gold thefts

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Law enforcement and local governments are scrambling to shut down a shadow industry that has grown up around the booming cash-for-gold business nationwide: thieves are snatching jewelry, then converting it into a quick payday at the shops.

Thousands of shops have opened to take advantage of high gold prices and hard economic times, and police in some cities have noticed an uptick in burglaries and thefts.

"Law enforcement is just swamped," said Maureen Walter of the State Police in Maryland. "Business is booming. I guess that's a good indication of how bad the economy is; for the most part these dealers are very, very busy."

Concerned about a growing criminal trade, Milwaukee passed an ordinance this summer to help police spot stolen jewelry being sold before it was too late to recover. Other cities are rushing to take similar measures, finding that the usual methods for tracking stolen goods weren't coping with the modern day gold rush.

Gold buying businesses began proliferating when prices started rising in 2005, reaching more than $1,000 an ounce in 2009 and around $1,200 now. "Cash for Gold" billboards cropped up along highways, TV commercials urged watchers to mail in their gold for money and exchanges opened in unusual places like liquor stores and hair salons.

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