A tip from Winnipeg police if you're buying electronic goodies for someone on your Christmas list: keep track of the serial numbers.

The Winnipeg Police Service's pawn unit says it had a record year returning stolen goods to their owners.They are key to tracking down stolen items that end up in pawn shops.

PAWN SHOP

Adam Malik of Atlas Pawn Shop said even though it comes at a cost to the pawn shop, when he can help return stolen goods like wedding rings to their rightful owners, it makes him happy. (CBC)

The three-person unit has solved 200 cases, restoring things like pilfered photography equipment and looted jewelry to rightful owners.

Sgt. David Clayton says the key is keeping a record of serial numbers or having photos of the items.

He said it takes no time at all for stolen goods to end up at a pawn shop so it's important to move fast.

"Sometimes people come home to their house and they discover that it's been broken into," he said. "And their stuff is already at the pawn shop."

Everything sold in Winnipeg to a pawn shop must be reported to police.

Clayton's team sorts through the lists of items turned over to the shops, checking serial numbers and looking for stolen goods.

And it's not always one item at a time that they are able to recover.

He points to $5,000 worth of stolen camera equipment the unit was able to re-unite with its owner.

It had been missing for a little over a week.

In most cases, he said it comes down to Winnipeggers who took down the serial number.

"To have a file in their home where they've got the serial numbers of these items is absolutely paramount," he said. "When we recover something, it's primarily because people knew their serial number."

Perhaps the only people left out in the cold when stolen property is returned to the rightful owner after a stop in the pawn shop, are the owners of the pawn shops themselves.

Adam Malik of Atlas Pawn shop said it's clear cut — if an item has been stolen, it is turned over to police, and he is out the cash that he handed over in exchange.

"It's all part of business," he said. "You can't win them all. 

But he said there is a certain gratification he gets personally when he can help right a wrong.

"When somebody loses their item and they get their item back. It does feel good," Malik said. "Especially if it means a lot to them."