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Craigslist sting: How a photographer got his stolen camera back

San Francisco Bay Area photography enthusiast Jeff Hu hatched an elaborate Craigslist sting operation to recover his beloved shooter.

Canon t2i
It all started with a camera much like this Canon T2i. Canon

Boy meets camera. Boy loses camera. Boy launches undercover sting to recover camera. Photographer Jeff Hu became the star of his own version of the classic cop show "The Streets of San Francisco" when he took on the task of recovering his stolen Canon Rebel T2i camera.

Hu details his adventure in an article for PetaPixel that should act as a training manual for anyone who ever finds a stolen item on Craigslist.

The story begins innocently enough with a party that got a little out of hand. A group of close friends soon expanded to include some strangers. The next morning, the party-goers were gone, and so was Hu's dSLR.

Hu did what anyone else would do in this situation. He filed a police report. He despaired. "My precious camera, which I learned photography on, which had taken so many memorable photos, which was very much a part of me, had been stolen, and the chances of ever getting it back again were slim to none," he writes. He also checked Craigslist.

There, on Craigslist, in the same city it was stolen from, was his missing camera. It all matched, even the scratch on the SD card door. He could have gone ballistic and tried to rush into a meeting with the thief, but instead he hatched an undercover sting operation worthy of "Mission: Impossible." All told, the operation involved several friends, some Facebook snooping, two undercover cops, a fake e-mail account, a coffee shop, and a whole lot of careful planning.

The result is one satisfying recovery story, worth a read. Sure, it helps that the criminal was no Moriarty, but you also have to admire Hu's ingenuity. Boy reunited with camera. Thief arrested. Bluebirds sing. A little bit of geeky faith is restored to the world.