My Stolen Bike Bought on Craigslist “is there any way to get these people in trouble?”

Photo by PoPville flickr user ep_jhu

“Dear PoPville,

I had my bike stolen the other night right from outside of the shaw metro. The thieves cut my lock and took the bike. Sure enough I see an ad for the same bike on craigslist a day later offering it at a very low price – it was clear they were trying to get rid of it quickly. The photo was not actually of my bike, so I was only 90% sure it was the same one. When I met them to confirm it was mine and “purchase” it, my plan was to just take it. But I was met by two people who came in a car and the bike didn’t have the wheels on it so a getaway didn’t seem likely. I reluctantly paid them $100 for my bike back, but told them I knew they stole it or at least they know it was stolen. Naturally, they claimed to have “bought it off some guy on the street” the previous day.

I filed a police report once I noticed it was gone and I know what the person who sold it to me looks like and their phone # – is there any way to get these people in trouble?

I wanted to go for the sting type of operation, but I didn’t see any police nearby and I don’t have any documentation that I even own the bike.”

50 Comment

  • It’s hard to say they were the one’s that stole it initially unless you can come up with footage. Be a tough case otherwise.

    • That doesn’t really matter. It’s illegal to be in possession of stolen goods, period. The best step would’ve been to get the police involved before confronting the alleged thieves. Besides, who buys a bike off somebody on the street and then sells it the next day, for very little money?

      • Again- they’d have to prove when the bike was stolen. They can say they’ve had the bike for months. If there’s NO proof to prove otherwise- what case is there?

    • Even if they didn’t steal it, they could be charged with possession of stolen goods.

  • You probably should have called the police before you met these people and paid them $100 for the merchandise. Now the police have no proof that these people that you’ll tell them were your bike thieves ever actually had possession of your bike, which will make charging them and prosecuting them impossible.

  • I saw a guy take the wheels of a bike locked up in front of my apartment. I confronted him and he ran away with the wheels. I called the police, and they told me there was nothing they could do, since it wasn’t my bike and it would be my word against the thief’s, if they even caught him. The cop said, “he could just say it was his bike.” Police!

  • next time do a police report asap, then if you see the bike on craigslist call the police before going to get it and have a plainclothes officer stand nearby.

    chances are, though, the thief won’t be prosecuted because of the “I bought it from a guy on the street” excuse. I wonder if the Council could make “purchasing bicycles from unlicensed vendors” a crime and then when someone used that as an excuse, the police could get the person’s info and give them a $500 ticket.

    • Do you really think the police would drop everything to accompany someone on this bike buy with short notice? It can take them hours to show up to take a report on regular, just-perpetrated thefts. Lol, thanks for the chuckle.

      • Didn’t they do just that last year for some guy who had his laptop stolen and found it on craigslist? He had filed a police report, let them know that he had found it, and they set up a sting in Farragut when he met the guy to buy it back. The thief was arrested. And, yes, you can be arrested for peddling in stolen property even if you claim you “bought it off of some guy”. This is how pawn shops get shut down even if they aren’t in on the thefts themselves.

        • Yeah, and I’m sure this isn’t the first time these guys have done this. Stop this guy now, and you could potentially prevent several future thefts.

      • Yes, they have done that before.

    • If it was stolen from the metro, wouldn’t there maybe be video footage?

    • But what about people who just want to sell used bikes they own like they would anything on craigslist. Maybe that they can’t sell bikes that aren’t registered to them?

    • You want me to get a license to sell my used crap on craigslist? No thanks.

      • I think the previous post was suggesting that you’d need a license just to sell bicycles, not to sell any of your other crap.

    • Possession of stolen goods is still illegal.

  • Formerly Broken Jaw

    Does everyone know about the National Bike Registry? Google it…and register your bike.

  • Always have a document – google doc is handy when your laptop has been stolen – with all the serial numbers of your expensive stuff. Cops wont budge without a serial number. Having photos of the times is also helpful if you ever need to argue that they are yours.

    Thieves are in two camps in my experience, fight or flight. You don’t want to mess with the first category as they don’t value life or limb and are often too dumb / indifferent to think through consequences. Makes confronting random folks by yourself hard. Always take friends when doing a CL sting by the way CL is crazy great for recovering stolen items!

  • Well, especially since you filed a report, you probably should have called the police once you spotted your bike on Craigslist. You can call them back and let them know that you retrieved the bike and have the number of the person that stole it. But I wouldn’t expect too much.

  • I just “graduated” from years of CaBi (charter member with black key and everything!) to having my own bike for getting around town. I bought a Linus mixte, and am psyched about having my own bike. But having it stolen is a very real concern of mine (in fact that, more than having very limited storage space for it in my condo, was the real barrier to purchase for a couple of years). I talked about it with the guys at Bicycle Space who helped me out, and they both said that using a heavy duty U-lock (the smallest size I could) would be sufficient around town. I also asked them to use the special bolts on the wheels that can’t be removed with a specific key/tool. It sounds like these thieves just cut the lock, in a fairly public and well-trafficked location. Are there other best practices out there to help prevent bike theft? I do plan on registering my bike, and having the serial number in my phone. Appreciate it!

    • Trust the bike shop people. Don’t assume that the person who wrote this post did the same, and that their advice is wrong. More likely, the person who wrote this post was not doing the things the bike shop would have recommended.

      Also, two different types of locks is a good idea, if you’re locking your bike outside for long periods of time. And other basic smart stuff — well trafficked areas, lock through the frame and wheel if possible (but never only the wheel), etc. Common sense will take you a long way.

    • When I bought my bike, I did a lot of research about locking it, and I recommend that you watch all the videos featuring Hal Ruzal because they’re entertaining and informative. See the most recent one: The best piece of advice is not to leave your bike outdoors overnight, even locked. Keep it indoors. I store mine in my small apartment because I live in Columbia Heights, and it will get stolen if I leave it outside locked overnight. Right now, I use a mini u lock through my back tire inside the rear triangle and wrap a cable around my front tire that locks into my u-lock. If my bike will be out for a few hours in a busy area, I use a longer cable to go through my seatpost and front tire locking into my u lock. I still never leave it outdoors overnight.

      • While any deterrent is better than none, you should take very little reassurance out of your cable lock. They are EXTREMELY fast and simple to cut with a sufficiently sized set of bolt cutters. Like 1 second. And whether or not its locked into your U lock really doesn’t matter. That said, your strategy is very sound…overnight is the biggest weakness. The best strategy is: have a crappier bike than every other one around, locked up better than all the others.

        • Agreed, my auxiliary cable is simply to prevent my front wheel from being stolen since it’s a quick release. U-locks can be defeated too, but having two forms of locks is a good deterrent during the day time. I recommend locking all the costly parts of the bike: frame, wheels, and saddle. I cannot emphasize how important it is not to leave your bike outdoors or even in a shared garage overnight. I’ve heard horror stories about bikes being stolen from garages and bike storage. If you can, keep it in your home. It takes up space, but you’ll likely wake up knowing your bike is still there.

    • How to lock your bike with a mini u lock: Rear wheel through the triangle is great. I realize I kept saying “tire” in my previous post, but you know I meant “wheel.” I did not get rid of my quick release from my wheels, so I always carry a u-lock AND a cable. If you have an expensive saddle, make sure to lock that too, I use a longer cable that can go through my saddle and front tire to lock into my u lock at my rear wheel.

      • random piece of bike storage advice- we store two bikes in our apartment (one a nice road bike, the other a commuter) during the week since it can be a hassle to wait for the bike room key and then find a space for it on the rack. in the meantime we keep the commuter bike in the bath tub. it sounds very silly, but for a short term storage solution it works.

        • That’s actually a really good idea — I guess that way you don’t have to worry about the bike scuffing up the walls, and after you remove the bike from the tub, you can just run the shower to remove any bike-related dirt.
          But do you have to take the bike out of the tub every day to take a shower? (Or do you have a separate shower stall, separate bathroom, etc.?)

  • Unless there’s any real evidence that you owned the bike and that these folks stole it, it sounds like just your word against theirs. Sounds like you’ve already filed a police report, which is good even if the case doesn’t go anywhere – if a lot of bikes are being stolen outside the Shaw Metro, maybe they’ll increase security or lighting or something. They won’t do that if the thefts are never reported.

    At the end of the day, you’re luckier than most people who have their bikes stolen – you actually got yours back within a day or two, evidently in good condition. I imagine that even in the rare cases where stolen bikes are recovered by the cops, it takes way longer and involves lengthy phone calls, paperwork, etc. I wonder how many of those folks would be willing to forego the headaches and waiting in exchange for $100.

  • any laws against possession of stolen goods?

    • People keep talking about its illegal to possess stolen goods; but can’t you just say that bought it from someone else? I could see the police taking back the item, but anything I’ve ever bought off CL could have been stolen and I not know about it. I’m not going to get arrested for making a purchase.

      • Exactly– that’s why I didn’t even bother responding.

      • that’s why if you buy something that’s priced “too good to be true”, you should be wary. it’s likely stolen, and yes, you will have to give it back if found out, or could be prosecuted. my friend saw her stolen bike in someone’s yard. called the cops. showed the cops a pic of the bike on her phone (plus, it was registered; plus she reported it stolen). the new owner said he bought it from someone (lied about how long ago). he wasn’t arrested, but he did have to give the bike back. he’s out of whatever he spent on the stolen bike. she has her bike back, no one is in jail, though.

    • D.C. Code § 22-3232. Receiving stolen property.

      (a) A person commits the offense of receiving stolen property if that person buys, receives, possesses, or obtains control of stolen property, knowing or having reason to believe that the property was stolen.

      Note that ‘having reason to believe’ would include situations like buying a bike with no paperwork from a random guy on the street.

      • I think you could argue this very easily. I doubt many bikes on CL come with paperwork. I understand some situations are going to be pretty shady and obvious, but not all of them. Especially with bikes, I could buy an older bike for $100 cause I see that’s a price that may pop up a lot. I’d have no idea if it was a was some fancy brand prototype and $3000 retail.

  • If you bought your bike new, the serial number should be on the receipt. Always save that receipt.

    It would be nice if there were more bikelink facilities in the city, like the one at the College Park metro.

  • Curious… what kind/color of truck were they in? I saw two guys downtown yesterday that looked a bit suspicious. They had 2 bikes in the back of their truck.

  • I’m really sorry about your bike and that you had to pay $100 to get (part of) it back, but I’m glad you got it back. My bike was stolen while I was in Safeway during a 20 minute window, and the awesome cop who came to take the report offered to drive me around the block to see if it would turn up. Lo and behold, we drove up on a guy sitting on my bike. He was arrested and charged with possession of stolen property. He did not admit to stealing it, but he told several stories of how he came to be sitting on my bike. In one, he found it abandoned on the ground and another, he bought it from someone for $20. I went to his court hearing. He was already on probation for a drug charge of some sort, and since this stolen property charge violated his probation, he went to jail. Just kidding! He was sentenced to more probation. I’m sure that really deterred him next time he was considering committing a crime.

  • Yes, notice it was Arlington police who participated in the sting not DC cops. They would not bother.

  • You probably should have just brought some friends and beaten them up.

  • +10000 they have the number can still do it now that they’ve already gotten their bike back.

  • Craig’s List probably has some mechanism to flag posts with stolen merchandise. Post information/address on the seller online? No perfect solution, but these are quick and provide some push back against the stolen goods market.

  • I had my bike stolen from the covered bike rack outside of the World Bank building on 19th st downtown. I routinely lock the front wheel and frame and use a cord through my back wheels. When i came out after work to an empty rack i thought it was my human error forgetting where i locked my bike but when I saw my helmet a couple of feet away with a clean cut through the straps, I knew they cut through my lock. The cop was nice enough to take my info and filed a report but realistically told me there was little chance on getting it back. I knew i had no proof of ownership other than a few Facebook photos with the bike. I now have my new bike registered with national bike registry, scanned my receipt of bike purchase, have the serial number handy, put my information hidden in the bike in discrete places such as inside the handle bars and inside the seat post and worst comes to worst have renter insurance which will cover part of bike’s value less the deductible. Live and learn.

  • Hal Ruzal Grades Your Bike Locking

    Uploaded on Apr 28, 2010
    part 1 :

    part 2 :

    part 3 :

    I don’t lock the seat but thinking about it. Maybe that is more of a NYC problem.

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