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How I Busted a Thief Who Tried to Sell My Camera on Craigslist (petapixel.com)
441 points by missy on Apr 6, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 164 comments

If true, I'm pretty sure this wasn't in San Francisco or Oakland. I could maybe see one of the smaller Peninsula PDs helping out like this.

Confronting a thief in person is pretty dangerous (if the police weren't there); there's a non-zero chance of a fight, possibly involving a knife or gun. If you theoretically have a CCW and can be legally carrying a gun for self defense, it's still physically dangerous, and legally risky (a lot of legal/self defense advice is that if you're going to confront someone like a cheating spouse or whatever, you should not have even a legally owned gun with you, since if things escalate, it can get much worse.) Even a "righteous" self defense shoot in California is probably going to cost you $50-100k in legal -- absolutely worth it to save your life or the life of someone you care about, not really worth it for anything else, including breaking up strangers fighting on the street.

Much safer to just gather information and give it to the police.

I don't know how much risk I'd be willing to take for a $350 camera. (if it had a 5.0 f/1.0L or 1200mm, capture/torture/killing might be appropriate, though)

> Much safer to just gather information and give it to the police.

The police won't help you recover your stolen property: it's not their job.

> Confronting a thief in person is pretty dangerous...there's a non-zero chance of a fight, possibly involving a knife or gun.

Every day walking around a city involves a non-zero chance of a fight. Every day interacting with other humans in civilization can involve a knife or a gun. Meeting someone who opportunistically boosted your DSLR at a house party isn't significantly more dangerous than meeting any Craigslist seller in any public place. In fact, it's probably less dangerous, because you won't be walking up to someone you don't know with hundreds of cash dollars in your pocket.

It's not even a complicated meeting. You take a friend, for safety, as many craigslist buyers do. You ask to see the camera, as any craigslist buyer would. You ask to take a few sample pictures to make sure it works, as any Craigslist buyer would. You snap a picture of the perpetrator and tell him (politely, because you don't want to fight) that this is your camera and you're going to keep it; if he disagrees, he's welcome to accompany you to the police station to sort things out. The vast majority of opportunistic thieves at this point will completely bug out since they know they're busted and they don't want to go to jail (there are few DSLR/lens combinations that don't qualify as felony larceny in most states).

I find your vision of a world in which opportunistic thieves pack heat and victims "just gather information and give it to the police" unrealistic, not to mention depressing.

The police won't help you recover your stolen property: it's not their job.

That very much depends on the department, the particular officer, and how you present your case.

I had a cop in the very high-crime town I was living in take my statement about having seen my stolen bike ridden by someone and then go looking for that person and find him.

Like you said, he didn't have to do that, but he was probably not busy and I had previously reported it stolen. Didn't hurt that he was coincidentally the same one who had come to my apt when I reported the bike (and other stuff) stolen.

What I'm getting at is that you shouldn't assume the police won't help. You have nothing to lose by asking them.

This model of the world is optimal in the majority of cases, but when it fails, it fails very badly.

So is driving on the highway. What, exactly, is your point?

We take calculated risks every single day. Meeting an opportunistic thief in a public place to retrieve your own property is at the low of end the risk spectrum, and the savings is a lot more than a slightly faster commute to work.

A thief is MUCH more likely than a random person to be 1) impulsive 2) stupid 3) violent.

It's a calculated risk. I also don't drive on New Years Day at 3am due to the drunks (or, really, late at night on Sunday morning in some areas). I prioritize my personal safety highest, followed by protection from liability, followed by my property. I've seen confrontations over similar things turn into stabbings or shootings. In Oakland, we had a fun game of "armed restaurant takeover" last year, where kids would enter a restaurant or coffeeshop, grab all the laptops/phones, and in a few cases, shoot people.

The police in most non-dysfunctional places are fairly willing to make arrests if you hand them a totally packaged case for grand theft. What they hate is work which screws up their stats (reported crimes which they can't/won't solve).

> Confronting a thief in person is pretty dangerous (if the police weren't there); there's a non-zero chance of a fight, possibly involving a knife or gun.

one of those moments I'm glad I don't live in the US. a thief with a gun? that reminds me when I recently was showing part of my city to an American couchsurfer, we took him for a walk around a lower class neighborhood to show him something other than common tourist attractions, and when we were passing by some average young scamps around liquor stores, he asked if they are armed. I laughed.


I waited on hold for 30+ minutes on a 911 call before giving up. Was going to report a domestic dispute, but never got a human. The dispute ended without anyone getting hurt, which is good, but ... well, it was then I decided that you pretty much can't rely on Oakland emergency services, so I moved out of the city.

It's too bad, because I loved living there.

I know of people who had various robberies and burglaries committed; the police wanted them to file an online police report, rather than sending officers out (I guess you could go to the PD, too).

Anything where I wasn't legally required to interact with the Oakland PD (i.e. a shooting or something with serious bodily harm, or filing a report on insured property like GTA), I'd avoid them. Armed robbery would be about the cutoff; I don't think I'd report assault without a weapon.

It's a defective police department due to internal culture, but also due to budget issues (and generally defective city government). The best hope for Oakland would be a federal takeover of the department (or city), or failing that, CHP replacing OPD. What they got was a weird federal guy appointed by the federal courts to essentially oversee the department.

Oakland Fire is actually totally fine, which is weird. And their EMS isn't bad for dealing with gunshots -- Highland is pretty good as a trauma center, although it's a county-funded hospital, not city. It's really just that the police department has serious problems, on top of the city having both crime and budget/governance issues.

Oakland PD is the worst PD I've had the displeasure of interacting with. I was in downtown Oakland at night in a party of 5, and we were accosted and robbed by three scary-looking thugs with guns. I was lucky enough to not lose my iPhone (they didn't notice I had not given them my phone) and was able to call 911 right after. The cops showed up immediately (within 3 min) with 4 cars.

We indicated that the perpetrators must've been just down the street, barely a block away. Of course, a description of "three black guys wearing hoodies" does not get you very far, in Oakland. The cops refused to send a car after them, instead asking us to give statements for 30 minutes, before moving on.

The worst part was that we asked if they could give us a ride to the station or to a BART station, and they refused. They had more things to do… like finding other people whose statements they can send a group of 4 cars to write down, I imagine.

>Oakland Fire is actually totally fine, which is weird.

Remember the Oakland Hills Fire? A direct result of complete incompetence of the Oakland fire department.

Hundreds of homes burned in Oakland. Barely any in Berkeley. (For those not familiar with local geography, driving along the ridge it's almost impossible to tell when you've left Oakland an entered Berkeley; the fire certainly wouldn't have been able to tell the difference.)

You could see the line of destroyed homes right up to the Berkeley border, where the Berkeley FD was able to stop its progress.

Oakland had completely broken infrastructure: Fire took out power, which then prevented any pumping stations to get water up the hill. Oakland had refused to update their fire hose connectors to a standard size, so the Berkeley fire trucks wouldn't work in Oakland even if the water were pumping, and other area trucks (probably a dozen cities sent help) were similarly useless. Trucks FULL OF WATER sat unused at the base of the hills because of lack of communication.

And the ENTIRE FIRE happened because the fire chief violated the department's policy: A brush fire they'd put out the night before the BIG fire was what flared up and caused the tragedy. This was a windy season, and their policy states that any such brush fires should be monitored for 24 hours after they've been put out to ensure that they don't flare up again, because of the dangers of fire when the winds are that bad. Story had it that the fire chief (a crony appointment of a useless mayor) told the crew to come home because it was Saturday night.

So if Oakland Fire is actually good now, it's certainly improved from utterly incompetent. Granted the loss of life wasn't bad considering the size of the fire (7 people died, if memory serves), but my sister lost a good friend to the fire, and therefore to Oakland Fire's incompetence. So maybe I'm a bit prejudiced.

Regardless, that die is cast, and I've left California entirely for the time being.

I don't dispute your account, as I don't know the particulars.

One minor quibble, though. Unless you're specifically talking about water tankers sitting unused, most fire engines carry a fairly limited amount of water in their internal tanks (technically, a "truck" has ladders, while, in SF at least, an "engine" has a water tank + a pump + hose lines).

In San Francisco, newer engines have a 500 gallon internal tank. That sounds like a lot, but the rated capacity of the pump is 1500 gallons/min, meaning at full flow (150 psi) you have 20 seconds of water. At best, with a small line at a low pressure, you have a few minutes of water.

Again, not saying you're wrong or repositioning the engines wouldn't have helped. But unless it's a trash can fire, the first order of business at a working fire (structure or wildland) is securing a dependable water supply.

I was led to believe that there were huge water tankers (like gas tankers, but full of water) sitting idle for lack of leadership. But I could have misunderstood.

I agree though that the loss of power (and lack of backup power) to the pumping stations was probably the biggest problem. I remember hearing that a number of people saved the private high school "CPS" from burning down using the water in the pool to keep the fire at bay; I'm not clear how they did this, though (if fire fighters were involved, I'd imagine they would be able to use their trucks to pump the water, but the story as I heard it was a bunch of teachers and/or students fighting the fires back). So yes, if you've got water, it's easier to fight a fire.

Time for a private social peer-to-peer civil protection startup?

I'm only half joking. Earlier this year someone was murdered on the street directly outside my window at 2 o'clock. PM.

It's called "moving to Piedmont, Orinda, or Hillsborough", I believe.

"Vote with your dollars. Your TAX dollars."

The term you're looking for is "mercenary company".

And in it doesn't work out, change your name and carry on - Black water.

But the Oakland PD is very active and effective in quelling "Occupy Oakland" protests, arresting the protestors and charging them falsely.

And shooting people in the head with grenades. Not as effective as BART PD (the worst Bay Area PD, hands down) at shooting handcuffed people in the back, though.


"police do not have a duty to provide police services to individuals"

DC district court, 4-3 split 30 years ago.

Only weakly relevant to California today.

But yeah, that case was about police's right to lying to victims about providing emergency service, not declining non-emergency service, which is very much not an obligation.

It depends on what pictures were on the memory card too. If you have renters/home owners insurance thefts would likely be covered. Luckily for me they were. The cost and time of replacing gear sucks, but life goes on. However, photos…those are HARD to get back. I lost 1,000 photos from a trip to Amsterdam the day after I got back. That sucks more than anything… Agreed, however, that I would never confront a seller alone in person!

I take it you don't listen to rap music?

If you did, I think you'd have a different viewpoint as a G.

Some rap music gives good legal advice (Jay-Z's "99 Problems" is about 95% accurate, it just oversteps the rights argument in a few places). A lot gives really bad advice. I'm a lot closer to George Tenet with the rented Maybach without tints or rims, spending money on businesses rather than 80 gold chains :)

I knew a woman who did white-collar criminal defense at one of San Francisco's most high-profile law firms. She heard "99 Problems" and thought "actually, those are very sound tactics."

I did an analysis of it on Quora http://qr.ae/TcyFx and a law professor did a far better job: http://slu.edu/Documents/law/Law%20Journal/Archives/LJ56-2_M...

There's also the Rap Genius analysis: http://rapgenius.com/Jay-z-99-problems-lyrics#note-17560

(IANAL, of course, nor am I a rap musician or interstate cocaine trafficker)

I have a buddy who is a Georgetown Law student. He is a huge Jay-Z fan and told me that one of his professors used this song as an example in one of his classes. Jay-Z seems to have a pretty good head on his shoulders. I guess that's what happens selling crack on the streets in New York. He didn't end up shot, in jail or dead, so he obviously did something right.

Lol, "clique" reference.

I have a similiar story. Left my laptop in the car, came back and found the window smashed. Had installed Prey on the laptop, and after jogging around the neighborhood (wearing a suit straight from work) for half an hour I get a e-mail. Location, picture of the guy - everything. I run down to catch a cab, but then I suddenly see a police car. Wave them over, they call up another squad car that was 50 meter away from where the guy was sitting. We come down (5 minute drive) and they already have him in chains. It took maximum 4 minutes from he opened the laptop until he was surrounded by cops.

I've also got Prey installed on my MBP, however for it to "properly" work (i.e. for it to be able to log into a wireless network) the laptop needs to be unlocked after it wakes up from sleep, something i still hesitate to do.

So i presume yours was set to just wake up and be ready to be used without password etc.?

Yes. The content of the computer was not a problem for me, it's the hassle of getting a new one. Don't think my spreadsheets have any value in the underworld.

Set a guest account.

Big ups to the folks who created stolencamerafinder.com (looks like one person associated with it is named "Matt"), who gave the author a critical tool.

That tool is super convenient. The serial number, as well as the model number, lens info, etc are all stored in the image metadata. Any metadata reader can get the info for you, you can even view it in Lightroom and sort photos by the camera or lens used.

Yes, it's a great site when it works. My personal camera isn't found despite uploading many images online w/ EXIF data.

I recently (two weeks) had my camera bag stolen from my apartment in Berkeley, with a few other things around $9k total and quite a few years to accumulate it. Fortunately, insurance is helping, but the police didn't even take prints in my case. Nevertheless, I'm continually stalking ebay/Craigslist/others for serial numbers and other signs as I've kept pretty detailed notes on the gear I had.

That sucks. Where in Berkeley? (Since I was just about to move there.)

How good are stories of recovery.

My bike was stolen from the hospital where I'm a student. 3 years of going there and never a problem, this night I walked outside and my bike was gone.. The thief had kindly left the chain lying ont be ground where he had cut it.

2 months later and I still hadn't given up on my beautiful 3 yr old trek road bike, Red Lightning. On a whim I checked eBay about 3am (late night studying) and listed all bikes in Sydney.

At 100 per page you can get through them fairly quickly.

Red was on the 6th page with my custom parts still attached. Called he police who came around at 3.30 in the morning- gave them the website, emailed them my serial number and other photos and they went around the next day and recovered it for me-

Such a win!

Unfortunately still took another 2 months to get it back from the police, but it came back and is still with me to this day

An interesting story, I'm glad it worked for the OP...I had been robbed at gunpoint sometime ago in NYC. The cops helped as much as they could but nothing above and beyond...for example, the fact that whoever had my iPod was now using my Netflix account through it didn't really register much interest (and a Netflix rep claimed to not be able to track the IP that device was using...huh?).

I did set up a fake account on Craigslist to pretend that I was looking to buy an iPod of my specific make and model (it wasn't a common color/size) and found a couple of people who were selling such an iPod, but they claimed to have original packaging, which would not apply in my case (though I guess if you're good at being a fence you can get packaging from somewhere).

Mostly, I learned how annoying it is to search through Craigslist noise.


edit: Some commenters have noted that the OP's story sounds fake, on the grounds that a big city police department wouldn't take interest. Well, yes and no.

My good friend had her iPhone snatched in a park during the day. She chased the perp on foot and managed to get the attention of police and, in her words, no less than two unmarked police cars suddenly showed up. They chased the perp into the projects but at that point, there was nothing the police could do. But they did take her to the station to look at mug shots and file a report.

In my case, I had left my phone unerased for a week (it was Android) and turned on the tracking program, which allowed me to locate him approximately with GPS and even record sound and take photos. I found where he was staying on two different occasions but the police declined to check it out...and I don't begrudge them since a 100-foot radius in a NYC apartment complex is quite large. Also, my detective was involved in investigating an unusually public and brutal crime that weekend and couldn't get back to me.

In other words, the NYPD will call out the troops for a crime in progress, or if you have an otherwise extremely solid lead, as in the case of the OP. Otherwise, yes, they will not go out of their way to track your stolen goods, because they operate on the assumption that it's been sold on the street (in my case, I doubted my phone had been sold, because the Android program lets me know how many times someone has tried to unlock the passcode and other usage info about the phone...it definitely hadn't been hard-wiped to be resold yet).

Manufacturers of expensive portable items really should put some effort into making their products easier to trace (by the legitimate owners), making them less appealing to steal.

Car theft used to be a much bigger problem before 1) VINs everywhere and 2) anti-theft systems. The easiest way to steal a high end car now is carjacking (i.e. once all the security systems are dieabled); otherwise, you have to either flatbed it or have the right ECU to swap for a specific model. Opportunistic theft of a late-model luxury car is actually pretty hard now.

European cellphone vendors do this; it really should be done for any product. I'd be ok with the manufacturer charging a small fee to officially transfer ownership, too, guaranteeing that the first purchaser can't then trace the device.

Apparently Apple is providing the NYC PD assistance in this regard:


> Every time an Apple device is stolen, detectives attempt to get tracking numbers from the victim or online records.

> That number, known as the International Mobile Station Equipment Identity, is then shared with the officers in Police Headquarters who pass it on to Apple.

> The California-based company then informs the NYPD of the device’s current location — and it can track it even if it was reregistered with a different wireless provider.

It's the IMEI, and Apple is certainly not alone in helping - any wireless provider can help, and indeed there are services available to law enforcement to determine if a cellular device is registered to another wireless provider, and contact them. Every cellular provider can also blacklist an IMEI, and it won't be able to be registered on any network, effectively bricking it.

* Every cellular provider can also blacklist an IMEI

This is very country specific and requires the cooperation of all service providers. Once the phone leaves the country and registers on different network the block becomes ineffective. Thieves here know the phone will be blocked so they send it on to Russia, for example.

>>>The easiest way to steal a high end car now is carjacking (i.e. once all the security systems are dieabled); otherwise, you have to either flatbed it or have the right ECU to swap for a specific model. Opportunistic theft of a late-model luxury car is actually pretty hard now.

Well, sadly some 1M owner(s) in the UK beg to differ as can be seen on YT here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DshK4ZXPU9o

A few years ago, my wife made a mistake and left her purse in her class room as she went out for a smoke break - while it was a pretty poor decision to leave her purse unattended, this was a class of about 10 students that she thought she could trust. As she was driving back home, she realized she didn't have any money for the toll to cross over the bridge - which should not have been the case. Luckily the toll booth clerk let her through and my wife really didn't think much about it other than that she may have just not had money on her after all.

Later that evening we get a call from Chase asking about a string of purchases on her credit card - panic mode sets in and she realizes that one of her credit cards is missing. Luckily, my wife puts the phone on speaker mode so I can hear the full details of the conversation - and the Chase rep goes through the list of locations the card was used that day. I take note of all the locations, times and dollar amounts.

With this information in hand, we both headed to the first store on the list, a GameStop located about 10 minutes from the school, and the first purchase attempt happened 15 minutes after school ended - the culprit wasted no time. We speak to the manager of the GameStop who understands the situation and is eager to help, but only with the presence of the police. We call up the police and are able to explain everything that has happened, that we want to file a report, and that we are on location of one of the stores who has the camera footage already loaded if someone could come out. We waited about 45 minutes and finally a patrol car shows up.

We start the process of explaining what has happened so far, that we have the full list of locations and times - and just need their help to be able to positively identify the thief on camera. They agree and we are able to access the back video room to attempt to identify the person. Sadly, GameStop (at least this location) had really poor recordings and it was hard to have a 100% confirmation - it could've been one of two classmates and we weren't certain. The next location was a Target, literally around the corner. We went over there, with the two police officers, who went to speak to their security office. Unlike GameStop, we had to wait outside until they had loaded the exact time - I guess to prevent us from seeing any other information/transactions. It turns out that Target had a security system that can take the credit card number used, automatically go to not only the right time, but right checkout aisle and show close ups of the person AND the card being used. One press of a button and the video was burnt to a DVD for the police officers to take back as evidence.

In the end the class mate was trying to buy Playstation 3s to be able to sell, so she could pay off the fines that she received for committing identity theft when she was a minor.... She received 6 months in one county for the theft of the card, then another 8 months for using the card in a different county. Additionally her mom was arrested since they noticed that she had a warrant out for her arrest so they just took care of that one as well.

Sounds like Target takes loss prevention as seriously as it does advertising. Impressive.

Curious, but why would Target care too much if the credit card was stolen? My understanding (which could be wrong) was the credit card companies or end users absorb the losses (depending on circumstances).

You would think so but no. Visa etc and the banks don't want that kind of trouble. To charge cards you need a special bank account called a merchant account.

A condition of this merchant account is that if someone issues a charge-back on their creditcard, if the merchant can't prove that the card owner brought the service/product then the funds are taken directly form their merchant account by the bank and then given back to the card-holder.

This is why anti-fraud systems are so important to merchants.

Case: I steal your creditcard, I buy a tv worth $10, 000. You notice this, and chargeback the merchant. The merchant has to pay you $10, 000 and he lost teh cost price of the tv he sold me (say $7, 000).

So by accepting your stolen card as payment, the merchant just lost $17, 000!

Source: I build payment gateways.

Aren't you double-counting here? On net the merchant only loses the merchandise. The net debit to the merchant's account is zero.

correct maths are: merchant gets 10000 then returns 10000 and still has to pay 7000 to vendor for the goods. net loss is 7K, not 17K

You could also say the total loss is 10K to the merchant, assuming he has a reasonable expectation of making that 3K profit...that is getting a little abstract about it though.

Oh yes you are correct.

In this case the merchant only loses the cost to the vendor ($7,000). Good catch.

Typically there's also a fee imposed by the bank for having a chargeback.

Standard is $25, but if you are a big merchant it could be lower.

I think they're counting the loss of the merchandise. So a chargeback for a $10,000 TV would be like losing $10,000 plus whatever the cost of the TV was for the store.

But it's not. Getting paid $10k and giving it back is net zero.

Not when you could have sold the TV for $10K. This is the shoplifting issue; the shop loses both the product and the potential profit on the product.

It gets a bit existential e.g. can you lose what you never really had? But even if you fall on the NO side of that, the cost of re-obtaining a product is not zero.

The cost of re-obtaining the product is $7k, which were already accounted for. Marginal administrative costs are negligible.

But the merchant is still down a TV. Those things aren't free.

Sure. I objected to the assertion that the merchant lost $17k, which is a gross exaggeration.

Like everyone else said, it's not exactly that. It's like getting paid $10k in exchange for a TV, then giving it back but not getting the TV back in return.

$17,000 figure is correct:

1) Store buys TV (COGS = $7K): -$7K

2) Sold TV for $10K. Realized P/L: $3K

3) $10K refunded (chargeback): -$7K

4) TV is gone as well. Inventory: -$7K

5) Potential profit loss: -$3K

Total loss: (7+7+3) = $17K

1. Store buys TV. -$7000

2. Store sells TV. +$10000, subtotal: +$3000

3. Store pays chargeback. -$10000' subtotal: -$7000

You can't double count the TV, and IMO, you can't count the potential profit loss either, as that's covered once the store buys a replacement TV for inventory. There are fees on top of the above, but the store is out the COGS and fees, not double the COGS, plus the margin.

The liability for the card holder is limited by law to something like $50. Whether the credit card company eats the loss or wether the merchant gives them the money back depends I believe on how much information the merchant collected about the transaction. My impression is that usually the merchant eats the loss.

it is almost always the merchant that 'eats' the loss.

edit: the credit card companies and merchant banks have the ability to 'reach back' for a number of months.

Target enjoys solving crimes. They have their own forensic lab in Minnesota.

As former manager of a hypermarket with 170 people team, I need to remind that shop is filming cash registers for many reasons. E.g. to resolve disputes about counting mistakes at the checkout, theft by cashiers, theft by customers.

The merchant is 100% responsible for these losses, which is why they care so much.

It's the merchant's duty to ensure that the person who is charging the purchase owns the credit card, which is why they'll often ask for ID along with the CC.

A stolen CC is useless if no merchant accepts it.

Target also keeps Segway-ish ATVs at their stores for chasing down shoplifters. They supposedly have a top speed around 60mph.

What about other classmates who didn't tell what they saw? I think they're not quite guilt-free as well, in case they really saw of course.

I didn't quite get for what her mom was arrested ("warrant out for her arrest").

Btw, was your wife able to receive the stolen amount? (And maybe something on top of it, for compensation....)

This all happened around her lunch break - so it is very possible that no one was in the room to see it, or the few people remaining didn't notice it. This girl who stole the card was the one sitting right next to her - so it was pretty easy to lean down unnoticed.

Honestly - I don't know what her moms charges were - all I know is that the detective on the case mentioned that when he followed up with us post the girls arrest.

Luckily there were no successful charges made - the first three attempts were all for PS3s at GameStop, Target and BestBuy - then it seems she went to the grocery store and attempted to buy a small purchase of gum and soda (according to the police, this is to test if the card is working). We did get a payment of the stolen cash which we valued at $10 (it probably was closer to $8, but we weren't certain and we were told to round it to $10 then). No additional compensation though on top of that.

Hm, interesting. The place where I live, one is required to enter a PIN code when you buy something in the physical shop. Shops have terminals for that.

Unfortunately the personal security measures on credit cards are very poor in America - I remember even little things like having a persons picture on bank cards in Belgium was a huge step up compared to the cards here. Even online banking here is pretty bad - so many banks still only allow 4 digit pins (often with "safety measures" in place to restrict your options, like reusing numbers, or disallowing years - thus making the available pin pool significantly smaller), and for online banking the security options are often a joke too, such as low maximum character lengths, not allowing anything but a restricted set of characters and simply converting your password to lowercase.

I don't know if this is to keep things "convenient" to the consumer, but I never feel secure in the way my money is handled.

Are you in Europe (like me)? Chip and Pin credit cards are common here. But they are not common in USA. It causes no end of problems for American tourists who come here, since their cards don't work in many shops.

Yup, in Georgia.

Where do you live? I keep hearing comments saying we are "required" to enter a pin in the UK, but we're not. If the chip fails you can swipe and sign.

Georgia, eastern Europe. Never had a chance to experience a failing of a chip though.

"In the end the class mate was trying to buy Playstation 3s to be able to sell, so she could pay off the fines that she received for committing identity theft when she was a minor"

Sounds like jail time was going to put her back on the right track in life. I wonder how she wound up after jail?

Not sure - we received notice of her pending release and that was about it. As for her past - yeah, it was astonishing that she was going to commit the same types of crimes to pay off the fines from her past - it was perfect though that she had that in her written confession with the detective, normally her case from when she was underage would have been sealed, but since she brought it up, it was now knowledge that the court could use.

This is just like the story of the guy whose stolen bike from Portland showed up in Seattle's Craigslist. IIRC this guy didn't have support from the police and set his own sting operation, the a-ha thing here was that he used Burner to make it look like he had a Seattle area code: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKTdeXH0Iz0&noredirect=1

To compensate for all these theft stories: in summer 2008, while in an amusement park in Denmark, I stupidly left my camera on a picnic table. When I came back (without much hope) 15 minutes later, several people, identifying me from my concerned glances around, came to tell me that my camera was safe and guided me to the park guy who was keeping it.

BTW, in Denmark bicycles are parked everywhere without any lock but a small wheel lock that doesn't attach the bike to anything, but only prevent the rear wheel from spinning. Of course most people don't even bother closing this pretty useless lock.

My headmaster in primary school once gave a great assembly on keelhauling where he went into all the gory details of this punishment. As an 8 year old boy, I was gripped.

The part which has really stayed with me is that he said the only offense for which keelhauling was the automatic punishment was stealing. The reason he told us was that on a ship everyone has to trust each other and theft ruins that system. Stealing a shipmate's property, no matter how small, puts the whole ship in danger.

I often wonder whether it would be a net improvement to extend that severity for theft beyond a boat. Whenever I lock up my bike it bothers me what this simple act is saying about society. I now live in a country where it feels as though theft carries a far greater level of social unacceptability, a far higher level of shame associated with it. I like that. In the UK where I grew up however, sometimes taking things that are not yours is reframed as a kind of opportunistic cunning and craftiness. I hate that.

Really cool story.

I had my bike stolen a year ago in the UK, and it was a really nice mountain bike worth almost a thousand quid. I hoped it would be easy to find, since I gave the police pictures, serial number of the frame, and most importantly - the brand of the bike(Kellys) is completely non-existent in the UK, they never sold their bikes there,and I brought it with me from my home country. So I thought, it should be quite easy to spot among all other brands, since it's pretty much one of its kind. Well, I was never able to, never popped up on Ebay, Craigslist or any other trading websites. I really do wonder sometimes what happened to it.

In two decades of bike commuting, I've had my bicycle stolen three times, and with a lot of effort and a lot of luck I've recovered it all three times.

#1: I was 19 and had ridden it to a local swimming hole, stashing it in the woods. That sounds dumb, but this was in a county of only 4,000 residents, so you didn't expect much theft. When I came back, it was gone.

How it was recovered: that same day, I went to every house within a mile and asked if anyone had seen it. Four days later, a dad and his son showed up, saying they'd found it abandoned in some woods.

#2: (same bike, a decade later) I parked it behind my house, out of sight of the street. I started out locking it, but over the years I got to be relaxed about it. One morning about 7 AM I hard footsteps and a bike being wheeled down my driveway. It was a shared driveway with my neighbor, and he was also a biker, so I figured he was just heading out early. Nope, that was my bike being stolen. I never found out if the thief knew it was back there or wandered back and happened upon it.

How it was recovered: I live in a smallish city (300,000), and figured if I just kept my eyes open, I'd see it eventually. It became a habit to scan a bike rack whenever I walked by or locked up. Sure enough, two years later there it was, right next to me as I locked up my new bike. It still had the registration stickers from my college on it, so it was easy to ID with the police. It turned out that the current owner had bought it from a pawnshop. She ended up being the true victim, as I got my bike back and she didn't get her money.

#3, eight years later: I had run to the library to pick up a book, only to find that my lock, which always lived in my bag, had been left in my daughter's bike trailer after a weekend excursion. I stashed my bike in the middle of the rack, jammed in between two others. No one can tell it's unlocked, right? Wrong. I came out ten minutes later and it was gone.

How it was recovered: I mailed a picture of my bike to every local listserve. About a week later, a woman wrote me saying she thought she'd seen it on a porch in her neighborhood. "Great!" I thought, and asked her what the address was. Then the conversation started to feel strange, and she eventually stopped replying to my messages. Two weeks later, she finally replied, sending a picture of the bike. It was definitely mine, as I had installed some custom parts and stickers. When I wrote that I was absolutely positively sure it was my bike, she finally gave me the address -- it turned out it wasn't a "neighbor" but a young married couple with whom she was sharing her apartment.

I decided to ask the police to come with me when I went to recover it, which they very kindly did. The husband who had stolen the bike wasn't home, but his wife was. She claimed he'd "found it on the side of the road with a free sign," and that "he would never steal." Clearly hogwash, but in the end, I didn't press charges for two reasons. I went back with a police officer to talk to the couple, and it was very clear they were terrified. He was a young teacher and being convicted of this crime would end that career. My gut instinct was that they weren't habitual thieves. They were both smart, college educated, but just getting started in their lives and without much money. He clearly really wanted my bike. (For the record, it was a semi-desirable fixed gear road bike). He'd fixed up a few worn parts, replaced others with ones that matched his style, etc. In the end, I decided to believe that it was a one-time crime of passion and to let him go with a stern talking-to from the police and a pointer towards the local bike co-op where he could build up his own bike.

Phew, long story. Anyway, if you lose something ... keep trying!

Good stuff. I sold a bike on gumtree in the UK. Inevitably the guy turned up and wanted to take it for a ride around thr car park to get a feel for it. I asked to keep some of his ID just I case he just rode off and he handed over his wallet (which later was found to contain some a4 paper wedged in it). He just rode off and gave me the finger.

Fortunately I was fairly fit and healthy then and I sprinted after the bugger. He tried to change gear and paniced and messed it up and I pushed him off the bike. Scuffle ensued but he managed to get away.

A call to the police resulted in an officer turning up the next day. Description given and the instant result was "oh I know who that was", he wad arrested about an hour later, I was asked to attend the police station to identify a photo of him and that was that - 6 month suspended sentence and community service.

It's disgusting how people will blatantly steal "every day" items and think nothing of it. I've played soccer for a decade, and I've lost countless soccer balls because people will literally pick up a stray ball and walk away with it. I always make sure to put my contact information on all of my balls with permanent sharpie, but it doesn't matter. I've only had one person call me with my lost ball over the years.

I've never had my bike stolen, but people have "borrowed" my bike before. This has happened a couple of times in various places, but sometimes I'll be in a hurry or on an errand and don't have time to lock (or a place to lock) my bike. I remember a few years back I ran into the library to return a book and just kept my bike parked right outside of the door. I wasn't gone for more then a minute, but when I came back out some guy was riding my bike around like it was nothing. Yelled at him to get off my bike and he ran away.

Bikes aren't the only thing people "borrow" though. Shovels, tools, toys... People have taken them right of my patio and just left with them. I usually find them in the next neighborhood or somewhere in the woods after a few weeks.

"stashing it in the woods" ... "they'd found it abandoned in some woods."

Are you sure you didn't just forget where you left it?

Amazing that your bike was stolen 3 times and recovered! Only one of my many friends whose bikes have been stolen have ever found it again. Moral of the story: lock up your bike.

Or, if a bike is unlocked in the woods, is it still stealable?

A friend of mine found his bike being ridden by the thief a week later and retrieved it. In London, not a small town...

We don't have listserve here. Sounds like a good service.

I'm sorry for the pawnshop buyer. Why didn't police follow the thread? I suppose pawnshop owner should have compensate her.

> Why didn't police follow the thread?

Triage. In many places, the police have too many more important crimes on their hands to worry about a stolen bike.

> I suppose pawnshop owner should have compensate her.

Someone is inevitably getting screwed in this situation. It's not clear that the pawnshop owner deserves that any more than the buyer. (There are situations where ve would do, though.) This also depends on her being able to prove she bought it there, but it's likely that wouldn't be difficult.

In the Netherlands, when you buy something of which you know the price is too good to be true (and it is) you are charged with 'handling of stolen goods'. In this case the buyer probably paid a reasonable pawnshop price for the bike. If the pawnshop did not also offer a reasonable price for the bike then it would have committed a crime.

I love the persistence you have! Really made me smile.

Wow, police helping anyone in a situation like this? Like, you ask them and they come and help the same day (or at all)? I don't mean to be harsh, but based on personal history and what I've heard from friends and acquaintances, that's a first.

I think it helped that he had pretty much done all the work for them, and if he explained it well enough on the phone or in person I don't see why they wouldn't help.

Is this FB screenshot from the blog the actual person that stole the camera?


Over 22k followers? It seems like this was a fairly petty crime for someone with that strong of an influence. I wonder if the motivation was monetary or for the sheer thrill of stealing and reselling something...

I suspect it isn't. The writer is in the Bay area according to a blurb at the bottom of the article, where the FB account in the screenshot is listed as from New York.

Awesome. There's nothing I hate more than thieves and there are few things more aggravating than having personal property violated or stolen.

A few years ago I had a bunch of cash and my debit card stolen from a gym bag. I tracked the purchases for the next day and then cancelled the card. I tracked the thief to a gas station nearby where he/she had put close to $100 on it. I asked the gas station owner to review the surveillance tapes, but as luck would have it, they weren't running any surveillance at the time. I filed a police report but was never able to catch the thief.

My only problem with the story is the part about having a friend ready to tackle the thief if he tried to run. This is very risky, not only because you are risking the friend's safety, but also because if the thief gets injured you could be on the losing end of a lawsuit. You have to be very, very careful when it comes to physical aggression. If you try to restrain somebody you had better have a damn good reason or you could be guilty of false imprisonment or false arrest.

I would be curious who invited the person, or how the person found out about the party.

Could be his game. Party looks big enough while walking by, sneak in when it's starting to get a little hazy, grab a little something and stroll out.

Or he was just a scummy fuck.

And now he knows where to return to meet the guy that put him in jail.

As does any home thief.

That's the tragedy of pursuing justice.

I've had 3 computers stolen from me in my life. Twice out of my car, and once when my house was broken into.

Just once I wish a thief had been this dumb.

Never leave valuables in a car. This is well-known. Doing so is being about as dumb as this thief. Although you've learned the hard way, and I suppose we all make mistakes, so don't see this as personal criticism!

After having my car stolen, and a bunch of stuff taken, I was surprised to find that ~25% of the folks I talked with about it had the same sentiment; that it's stupid to leave things in a car.

Where I grew up, everyone left stuff in cars. Nobody stole things. Worked great.

Why is it okay for people to steal stuff in cities, but not in small towns?

Do you take your car-fixing tools (~2 BTC, these days) out of your car every time you go into your house?

> Why is it okay for people to steal stuff in cities, but not in small towns?

My explanation is that in cities there are more people living in a small space, there are simply more thieves in any given area, and also more opportunities for them.

However, those who leave stuff in cars create an ecosystem for thieves to operate in, and they should please stop doing so, giving opportunities to thieves may result in more thieves.

When my car was recovered, the responding officer showed no interest in fingerprinting the car, or really investigating at all.

We should expect, and be willing to pay for, better from our public services.

The cycle of moving mountaineering gear to and from my car solely to prevent theft uses up ~1/2 hr a week of my life, and provides utility to nobody.

I won't steal your stuff, even if you leave it in plain view in your car; it's yours. Please don't steal mine.

Looks like there's room for improvement in the US...


Does the gear fit in your trunk? Or are you an unfortunate soul with a hatchback?

I'd prefer to see it as fortunate to have a wagon. Sleeping in the back of a sedan is a real bummer, especially for two.

Hard to carry lots of stuff, too ;).

Even my hatchback has a pull-over cover that hides the contents.

Also if you're putting into your trunk do so before you arrive at your parking destination... many stories about people seeing you hiding stuff and then knowing there's something to steal.

Do you at least hide the valuables in the car so you can't see them through the window?

I do now. It's hard to make it look like there's really nothing interesting in a wagon, especially if you'd like to stop in at a store/restaurant after a day in the mountains.

At best, there's a blanket over a pile of stuff that looks a lot like a pack and skis...

This is actually why I will only buy sedans or other cars with trunks (well, and the special legal protections trunks have vs. "accessible to driver" passenger compartments. Otherwise, I'd have an A3. Fortunately Audi is coming out with an S3 Sedan in 2014/2015.

You could buy that Audi A3 now, if there are any left.

I have the current hatchback version, and with the factory-supplied, swing-down parcel shelf installed and the lift gate closed, the area behind the rear seats is totally enclosed by rigid, opaque surfaces; it’s impossible to see any of the contents from inside or outside the vehicle.

I don’t know whether this area has the same legal status as a trunk, but practically speaking, it’s no more accessible to the driver than the trunk of a sedan having rear seats that could be unlatched and folded down by someone in the passenger compartment.

Out of curiosity, why does the trunk have a particular legal status?

In America, police only have to show 'reasonable suspicion' rather than probable cause to search a person and his immediate surroundings for weapons - and if they find something else that's illegal while searching for 'weapons', you're out of luck.

Since the trunk is out of reach of the driver, it can't be part of this 'reasonable suspicion' search - unlike, say, the glove compartment. For the trunk, police need your voluntary consent or probable cause.

In other words, keep your contraband out of reach.

Also, for weapons, you can keep unloaded shotguns and rifles in your trunk. If they're in the passenger compartment, they have to be in locked cases. I have an A4, and it's not really big enough to carry "real" rifle cases like Pelican 1750s, especially with anything else in there. A soft case or bare rifle fits fine when going to the range.

Sound advice, and a good explanation. I prefer not to own (or use) contraband, but even so I would prefer to exercise my rights and ask for a warrant before a truck search.

I certainly do now. I was 22 when my first computer was stolen. Didn't really worry about it then.

You don't have to not leave it in the car, you should just cover it up or hide it.

If you have a blanket in the trunk then hide your computer under it if you have to leave the car, or put it under the passenger's seat.

Some equipment (e.g.: Bluetooth-enabled electronics) literally advertises its presence even when concealed. I've heard stories of thieves canvassing car parks in up-market areas with Bluetooth detectors and swiping Apple devices in particular.

Did they have LoJack or equivalent?

My friend's work computer had LoJack, got stolen, and helped the police bust a stolen computer dealer and recover a bunch of laptops.

This is quite scary:

"The cops questioned him for a bit [...] and arrested him. It turns out he had a very realistic airsoft gun on him, which would have made running away with the camera a helluva lot scarier. When he was fingerprinted at the station it turns out this guy also had a warrant out for his arrest, and that he was using an alias all this time."

A guy running around with a realistic looking gun, a warrant out for his arrest, and this person just visited your party yesterday night. Brrr...

I was reading this story and found myself smiling after every paragraph because I had gone through pretty much the exact same story. Except that it was a Nintendo Wii soon after it came out.

In my case the police officer that got the guys information after I brought it in decided to go meet the guy himself because he recognized the name. Had the console hand delivered to me that night after matching the serial number.

This is awesome, but after going through all the trouble to protect your identity doesn't putting this up online undermine your efforts?

You mention days of the week in the post as well as some details of your exchange with the thief in your replies to his Craigslist ad. He could likely tie it back to you easily if he was informed of this story.

I'm fairly certain that if the thief wanted, he could have found out the author's identity from his fellow friends/partygoers that attended the party. I don't think the author is overly worried about concealing his identity.

Great story and perseverance. Huge props and very happy you were able to get your camera back. This gives us hope when we are faced in this kind of situation. Great read, thanks!

The most interesting part of this story to me - the guy checked the serial number of his camera by uploading a picture taken by that camera to an online tool, which I presume read that out of the EXIF tags. It was useful in this case, but it's still somewhat creepy that every picture some significant subset of people are taking includes personally identifiable information.

In what way is the serial number of your camera PII?

If there were a big enough set of images with serial number data associated to them, it would be trivial to link one image to another - which might be used as a profile picture on Facebook, or perhaps a picture on a dating site.

Being able to link the photos to the same owner could potentially lead to PII becoming available, and could lead to embarrassing, or potentially dangerous situations.

Well, here is my stole and recovered story.

I was tending to my front garden one day when I see this massive shirtless guy walking up the road with a huge pot plant. It was a weird scene so stuck with me.

Later that day two Thai guys walk up the road and ask me if I had seen anyone with a pot plant. I tell them that I had, they tell me they own the local Thai restaurant down the road, and someone has stolen the big pot plants from out the front. I gave them a description of the guy, but I told hem I didn't know where he went.

Anyway, next morning I get up, and one of my pot plants is missing. After cursing for a while, I sat staring out the back window musing on life. When I realize what I am looking at is my pot plant in the back window of an apartment three buildings away. A very low rent building known to house questionable types (the local nickname was junkie towers)

So I got out the zoom lens, took a a couple of pictures and hunted through my garden photos until I found a picture of the said pot plant. I went down to the police station with the photos and told the my story. Well, the police like nothing more than an open-and -shut case. So they got a warrant, and went around and knocked on the door that afternoon. What they found was a veritable treasure chest of goods taken from around the neighborhood, with pot plants being a particular specialty. The police told me tehy're easy to sell at markets and don't have serial numbers etc. but there were bikes, lawn furniture, you name it, anything that could be stolen without breaking and entering.

The guy turned out to have a warrant for his arrest for an assault charge, and a couple of other things. The detective eventually asked if I woid testify at a hearing against him, which I agreed to, despite being a bit nervous of the size of the guy and his previous assault charge.

The big day in court came and the defending attorney made a big song and dance and tried to suggest that the fact that his client had an identical pot plant to mine was mere coincidence. I suggested that the amount of combinations of pot plants was a very high number of permutations, to which he triumphantly declared that given there were possibly thousands like it, it coudld be merely similar and not exactly the same. I countered with the fact that the odds of a similar pot plant showing up at the exact same time as mine went missing were too high to be mere chance.

Anyway, the guy went to jail, I forget how long now. Th detective told me it was some of the best civilian witness testimony he had seen (I'm sure he says that to everyone). I got my pot plant back, complete with evidence tag that I left on for fun until it disintegrated.

I must say, being in the witness stand was quite harrowing, having to point to someone in court and argue you're not a liar. I had shaky and sweaty hands afterwards, a combination of nerves and adrenalin. All that over a $20 pot plant, but a principle was at stake and was not going to let this creep get away with it.

Potted plant or pot plant?

I'm pretty sure the poster would also be in jail if it were 'pot' rather than just some regular plant in a pot.

yeah, cultural difference. 'Potted plant' is called a 'pot plant' round my parts. A pot plant is also, I guess, called a 'pot plant' though very few people would use that term. It's all in the context.

Much less hassle than this guy last year who got his bicycle back from a thief. This was an expensive bike, so he had to fly to another city to retrieve it.


> My DSLR (...) which I learned photography on

Oh. Nowadays people learn photography using a "D" SLR... That makes me feel so old!

PS: thanks for the info about http://www.stolencamerafinder.com/, very useful (and not something you could have used with a non-D SLR...)

Two undercover cops for a camera? What an awesome police department. In my country i am skeptical i could get that kind of support for a camera, most probably i would file a report where the investigation would go nowhere ( if there is one ).

Good job!

All this story lacks is a serious beatdown, or at least a tasering to the balls.

You have to be carefully with stories like this, often the reason they go viral is not for nice reasons.

To me it seems the enjoyment is someone gets hurt and we get to be guilt free in doing it because the hurt person is 'clear cut' bad.

Sure that's why we enjoy most movies and computer games, but I think taking it to real life is a step again.

There's a nasty undercurrent in these sort of things on the internet like nigeria scammers scammers.

Always remember more often than not the people participating in these crimes do it due to mental illness or desperation.

I'm not saying let them get away with it, I'm not saying don't blog about it. I'm just saying in my opinion perhaps try not to celebrate it to much.

> Always remember more often than not the people participating in these crimes do it due to mental illness


Everyone should keep this in mind. I find the Nigerian scammer-scammer stories entertaining because of the vigilantism, but it's perverse entertainment knowing that many of the scammers are driven to it by desperation. Likewise, I got a kick out of this article, but we don't know the thief's personal situation. The author handled the situation fairly and doesn't revel in the revenge, but vigilantism and revenge is the reason the article goes viral.

How was this vigilantism? The only people who applied a sanction to the thief were cops; he never used force or meted out any kind of extralegal punishment.

Always remember more often than not the people participating in these crimes do it due to mental illness or desperation.

Uh OK, we should accept the loss of our hard earned cash /stuff because some thief is depressed and needs the money.

Confronting them can lead to bigger issues, jail for example and it's harder to argue self-defense when you went there, but they surely do need a thorough beating. Stay the hell away from my stuff and that's it.

To quote myself above 'I'm not saying let them get away with it'

I didn't even say not to beat them. If beating them is what you have to do, so be it. All I said was the greater community shouldn't celebrate it.

My point is I think these style of stories are glurge and I think people need to try and be aware of that.


All I said was the greater community shouldn't celebrate it.

Yes, the community should celebrate it - passing along the story that should yield some empathy in others regarding the feeling of being violated when your property is stolen; propagating the meme that thievery is wrong and that thieves often get caught.

Making excuses for thieves or decreasing the perceived impact of their behavior or the consequences to them only enables them.

Being the victim of theft is extraordinarily violating, and making it any easier for perpetrators of that violation is deplorable.

Well, the thief was arrested; in a decent system, that would mean that possible mental illnesses would be identified and (s)he would be offered help.

Of course, I realize this is mostly wishful thinking.

I dont know who you are, i dont know what you want but if you take my dlsr away, i will find you.

Lovely plan

Fake... No craigslist buyer or seller ever arrives on time.

Sorry, but this sounds fake.

I'm pretty sure it's real. I went to high school and college with Jeff Hu. He shared the links to this on Facebook. Definitely happened. There's the whole reddit thread too: http://www.reddit.com/r/photography/comments/1ajifl/someone_...

I'm not sure he or anyone else had anything to gain out of lying about this. I had a Canon T2i for quite sometime and it definitely does embed the camera's serial into each captured image.

Downvoted for unconstructive criticism without arguments.

You're right, I was too lazy to type it out. Should have just not posted at all then.

My reasoning was that it sounded too clean. Either it is fake, and just the written for linkbait (there were enough successful similar articles online to justify someone trying that) or the x-th rewrite of a story.

As another reply to my post here pointed out it orriginated on Reddit, so probably the second thing and I was wrong. Sorry.

How so? The only thing I'm skeptical about is I would imagine his local PD would be way busy to go on a petty theft bust but other than that it sounds legit.

would be way busy to go on a petty theft bust

Please... this was probably the only real crime solving these guys did all week.

I'm going to leave myself open to the "citation needed" charge by generalizing here, but doesn't most police activity involve pointless traffic stops, traffic direction, prosecution of victimless vice crimes, domestic disturbance calls, and paperwork?

Depending on the lens, it could be grand theft.

Good point, GT is above what amount in California? Unless it's really high, it's really easy for a lens to fall in that GT category.

Wikipedia says $400.

I assume their easy cooperation indicates the guy is living in a reasonably affluent suburb where the police are both well-equipped and not very busy.

They weren't too busy because the author did all the work for them: all they had to do was walk half a block and arrest a guy.

Funny I think so to.

I've heard to much of the story before, it seems like they have mashed a few of the classics together to create it.

Edit: Or maybe I just read the original story on Reddit.

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