As Vashonites we rely heavily on buying used goods from others on the Island. Granny’s Attic and Luna Belle’s Consignment are always full of great used clothing at affordable prices. However, there’s another threat to those who have had property stolen from them: garage sale pages online. Whether they are through social media (such as Facebook) or through eBay and Craigslist, unlike our trusted consignment shops these sites often don’t have safe guards to ensure that what is being sold is legitimately owned by the seller.
Unlike pawn shops and flea markets there is no way of knowing where the product originally came from (whether stolen or bought from someone else and sold for more to you). Our trusted shops, especially flea market and pawn shops, have stringent rules. If the transaction seems fishy, the vendor is supposed to question it and ask the seller for some information. Many are now required by law to keep a log of the seller’s name, address, a warranty that the seller did have the rights to sell it and the physical appearance of the seller. If the vendor plays dumb and purchases the stolen item anyway, there is a hefty consequence.
This is the reason that online selling has become a more and more frequent way for thieves to dump their stolen goods. If someone has stolen from you, it is a good idea to check out eBay and Craigslist to see if it’s being sold. If it is and you find it, contact the same police that you contacted for the original stealing of the item. The police will contact the seller and try to regain the item. It is your duty, however, to scour the many listings online.
If you’re on the flip side of the equation (IE the buyer), be extra cautious. If the deal seems too good to be true, it might be a good idea to inquire into missing item cases or ask around to see if anyone is missing something. If there’s only one photograph on the page, ask to see other photos of the item. An obvious reason to suspect they don’t belong to the seller is if the item has a “property of…” sticker and the seller’s name is not the name on the sticker.
Another way to tell if something has probably been stolen is to look at the packaging and the price you paid. Unless the item is something that is an nonreturnable gift (such as a clearance item at a store), there is no reason for there to be ten or twenty, and certainly not two dozen, of an item online in one posting. There is certainly no need for the item to have a discount of 75% if it’s brand new – maybe if it were in a really bad condition, yes. The packing, however, can be the biggest tell of stolen property. If it is food or medications, look at the expiration date. Sometimes the dates are marked over if the original date has passed. The expiration date could have been blurred out in the photos online.
If you buy something and it turns out to be stolen property, you will not be in trouble. However, that is provided that you did not know it was stolen or you did not have suspicions. If the item turns to be stolen, you will have to return it to the proper owner. However, those that stole the item will have to return your money. If the police come to you and say that you have purchased stolen property, be truthful with them.
Another thing that could be done is asking for a serial number if the item has one. Electronics often have a serial number, and the police report often contains this information. If the seller won’t give you the serial number, that’d be a red flag. Contact the police and give them what information you can.
Another thing to do is to look at the advertisement. If there’s a somewhat overexcited tone or little information or description, red flag it. Another red flag is if the phone number is spelled out instead of given in digits. If it’s a gift card that is bought, a red flag would be an odd amount – not the standard amounts. Ask why the gift card has such an odd amount if you’re suspicious.
It is expected that the buyer will do their homework, however. It’s much easier to determine if the object was stolen if the thief comes up with a pair of bolt cutters in their hands and offers the item (let’s say an impounded vehicle) for $50 than it is over the internet, especially when the photographs can be photo shopped. It is also expected that the buyer will report the stolen item to the police as soon as they discover it was a stolen item before it came into their possession. At this point, it is wise to stop using the item and hand it over to the police.
However, the buyer could be charged with handling stolen goods if they discover they have bought stolen goods and do not turn them over to the police. This becomes serious as the hunt for stolen goods does go on as long as there is probable cause that they could still be found. The process is a little different for having a stolen car in your possession.
The best thing to do before buying a car from an online dealer is to ask for the registration document – or V5C form. If there are spelling mistakes or the watermark is not present, this might be a stolen car. The name, address, and identifying numbers on the V5C should match the information from the seller and the car. If not, it’s probably safe to assume it was stolen. If the glass with numbers that would identify the car have been tampered with, get a history check. If everything matches up, it would still be a good idea to get a history check – the car might be using a different car’s identity to be sold.
It’s always better to be cautious when dealing with sales online. This will prevent you from getting into serious legal trouble.