Stolen PC registry comes online

Computers, especially portables, suffer from being the most often stolen category of merchandise, according to a national clearinghouse.

Consumers looking to buy used computers now have a free resource for making sure they are not unwittingly purchasing stolen merchandise.

The Stolen Computer Registry, an online database of serial numbers of stolen computers, is designed to aid law enforcement authorities and victims in recovering stolen items.

Computers, especially portables, suffer the dubious distinction of being the most often stolen category of merchandise, according to the Stolen Computer Registry. Moreover, illegal computers and peripherals have generally been difficult to trace, except through their serial numbers.

The registry works by matching up a stolen computer's serial numbers with purloined merchandise recovered by authorities. It has been responsible for recovering one percent of the tens of thousands computers listed in the database, said Robert Zises, a spokesman, who added he hopes to boost the recovery rate.

"[Using the registry] is a way to empower people," Zises claimed. "Everybody should check the database before they buy a computer."

The Stolen Computer Registry was conceived in 1990 by the National Computer Registry Exchange, a clearinghouse of used computers, after the firm received some suspicious merchandise on its trading floor.

"We found that there was no central point where we could check if the gear was stolen or legitimate," Zises said. After finding support in a consortium of computer dealers, the clearinghouse now offers its services for free.

"Law enforcement agencies feel this is a valuable service," Zises said.