Thievery in the digital age

Your stuff gets stolen, then you think you've found it for sale on the Internet. Now what?

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
2 min read

I recently got my car stolen from a public parking lot. When I got it back several days later, all the electronics were stolen, along with everything else even remotely valuable. The same day I got it back, a friend of mine told me to check out Craigslist to see if any of my stuff had been listed. I took his advice, and to my surprise I found a local posting with what was undoubtedly some of my car's electronics, along with a post date the same day of the theft.

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I immediately contacted the police with the posting and information on my goods, but I couldn't dig up the serial numbers. The detective could do nothing for me without them, but urged me to remember if there were any personalized markings that would give them 100 percent certainty they were mine. When I couldn't, it was basically the end of what the police could do for me. Case closed, the bad guy got away despite the evidence I had gathered.

This highlights an interesting issue with anonymous classified services like Craigslist--how do people act upon discovering what they believe to be their own stolen goods? In the case of Craigslist, there's no number to call. You're limited to communication via e-mail. Craig Newmark, the creator of Craigslist, explained to us what happens once a user comes forward with a suspicious listing: "we normally have the target contact the cops, and then we help the cops locate the bad guy, after due process has been performed." When the facts match up, Newmark says the response to warrants and subpoenas is "fast." Unfortunately, as I described above, in my case there were no warrants served.

Likewise, dealing with stolen items or potential fraud on eBay is a police matter. What may steer would-be thieves away from eBay is the traceability on the back-end with user accounts and personal information taken from PayPal or credit card transactions. Both are linked to each purchase, making it a little harder to sell things anonymously.

This moves me to ask if anyone else has had a similar experience, and whether they were able to get their property back. In some ways the Internet has made it frighteningly easy to get rid of personal items, but the optimist in me would like to believe it could be just as powerful in getting them back. What's your story?