Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Your stolen bike is on Craigslist…now what?

Posted by on September 29th, 2006 at 11:09 am

[Hey! That’s my bike!]

The other day I got a phone call from a reader in distress. He found his wife’s bike for sale on Craigslist. He was sure it was her bike, but he wasn’t sure how to proceed. I didn’t really have a good answer for him so I asked Officer Robert Pickett of the Southeast Precinct.

He then asked a detective and this is what she said:

1. The person must be able to prove that it is his/her stolen bicycle. This probably means having already reported it stolen to the police, including the bike’s serial number or unique characteristics in the stolen report. If there is any question at all as to the ownership of the bicycle, there is nothing that we will be able to do about it. Unfortunately if there is ever a situation where it is simply one person’s word against the other, we often can’t act.

2. In the past detectives have made calls to arrange to buy the stolen bicycle and then arrested the seller. She explained that their capability to do this will often depend on the strength of the information they have, and the manpower at their disposal on any given day.

3. If a person sees their stolen bicycle for sale on Craig’s list, they should call the non-emergency number for the police 503-823-3333. Dispatch will probably ask questions about how the person knows it is his/her bicycle. If they are satisfied, they will set up a call for an officer to speak with the complainant. The officer probably ask similar questions, and then may decide to involved detectives. Depending on the resources at the time, the officer might also simply decide to take a report, or attempt to get the help of other officers to contact the seller.

It is possible that even if contacted, the person selling the bike might not be arrested or charged, as part of the crime requires that the person “knows” that the bicycle is stolen, which usually requires some sort of admission on the part of the suspect. If the person selling the bike truly didn’t know it was stolen, or is a good actor and has a good story, they might not be arrested. The bike can still be recovered, though.

This offers some good insight into how the police may (or may not) be involved in getting your bike back. Morale of the story is to always file a police report (that includes your serial number!) and make sure you have a foolproof way to identify your bike.

For more on bike theft and prevention, check out my Bike Theft page.

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  • Doug September 29, 2006 at 11:53 am

    Thanks for the article, it’s motivated me to (finally) add a couple of easily distinguishable marks to the underside of the frame.

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  • Curt Dewees September 29, 2006 at 12:13 pm

    Another simple trick: Remove the seat w/seatpost from your frame and insert a sealed ziplock baggie containing a note with your name, phone #, address, that says, “This bike is STOLEN! If you find this note, please call me IMMEDIATELY.” [signed, your name]
    Then replace seat & post with the waterproof note safely sealed inside the seat tube, invisible to the outside world.

    Then when police go out to investigate the bike, they can ask to remove the seatpost and see if the note is still there.

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  • Craig Newmark September 29, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    Have the cops contact us, normally at abuse@craigslist.org. It’s not often, but sometimes we can help; we try.


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  • Ayala September 29, 2006 at 1:39 pm

    Curt: excellent idea. I’ve already done that on my bike, except I used a sheet of self-adhesive laminating plastic. Saw something similar on an episode of CSI a while back which gave me the idea.

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  • gabrielamadeus September 29, 2006 at 1:48 pm

    taping or writing something on your steer tube inside your headdtube is a good idea too. Then if a mechanic ever works on the bike, they’ll find it, but more than likely the avg joe wont.

    As far as the situation at hand, I’d say get a few friends and arrange a nuetral meeting spot. Then confront the thief. I’m not saying kick his ass, but intimidate him. Worst case senario, he at least lowers the price.

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  • Patrick September 29, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    On day while waiting for the MAX I saw a bike that looked like mine roll by,

    “hmm that looks like my bike, same pedals, same tyres, weird, WAIT THAT IS MY BIKE” I followed the guy who stopped at a coffee shop When I walked up closer I could tell by some distinguishing stickers it was my bike.

    At this point I did not know the bike was stolen.

    “Nice bike I said as I threw his filthy water bottle out of the cage and started to get on my bike.

    Thieves more often than not are pretty stupid, just keep your head don’t do anything rash and be confident.

    I told the guy I was taking my bike back if he would like to call the police I’d be happy to wait around. He backed down.

    Honestly, I realized at this point I didn’t even know the bike was stolen so if cops showed up I may not get the bike back.

    I like the idea of putting someting inside the bike. Good article,

    And what’s up with Craig himself dropping a comment, nice…

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  • Cate September 29, 2006 at 3:23 pm

    Another way to establish ownership and help identify your bike (when filing a police report, reporting it on the Stolen Bike Listing, and reclaiming it if it’s found):

    Take photos of your bike now. Take a photo of the serial number. If your camera has a date feature, turn it on. Put yourself in a photo of your bike.

    This is what insurance companies tell people to do as a preventive measure in case their assets are stolen or destroyed in a fire.

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  • Qwendolyn September 29, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    The other thing people should do is, if they are buying a bike on craigslist, peruse the stolen bike listings and make sure the bike you want to buy is not stolen.

    If thieves have no one to sell to maybe they’ll stop thieving.

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  • Qwendolyn September 29, 2006 at 4:28 pm

    Oh and hat tip to Craig “wouldn’t take the money” Newmark.

    Posting on the bike portland blog and everything. Cool beans.

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  • SKIDmark September 29, 2006 at 4:31 pm

    There will always be someone to sell to. They will sell a thousand dollar bike for 20 to 40 bucks so they can go buy more drugs. The more brazen ones will sell on Craigslist. I think making the exchange in public is a good idea. Also having a cell phone handy to call 911 when they get there might help getting the theif prosecuted.

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  • Cecil September 29, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    Patrick, I have to admit I am totally confused by your post – if it was your bike and someone that was not you was riding it, how is it that you would say “at this point I did not know the bike was stolen”? Was there a possibility that your evil twin had loaned it to someone? Did the rider get permission to use the bike from one of your other personalities? Am I missing something? Or is your post missing something?

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  • HillSlug September 29, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    When police enter stolen property into the Law Enforcement Data System (LEDS) database, there in an entry field specifically for Owner Applied Number (OAN). The recommended format is OR12345DL for an Oregon drivers license number. I know that some of the smaller agencies around the metro area will actually allow you to borrow an engraver for free.

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  • HillSlug September 29, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    “borrow …for free” oops! I’m tired.

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  • Nevin September 30, 2006 at 1:55 am

    I had a similar experience last year. My bike was stolen off PSU campus, and after a few weeks it showed up on CL. I had reported it to the police the day it was stolen. I called the guy selling it, and went over to “check it out”. Once I was sure it was mine I called my friend to “bring my money an pick me up”, of course he was waiting to call the police on my command. It was really satisfying watching this douche tell his address and give directions to my friend over the phone with the false satisfaction of successfully moving a stolen bike. About a half hour later an officer showed up and I sat back and watched as his positive manner quickly changed. I rode away a happy biker, but as mentioned above there was no way to prove he know it was stolen (even though the serial number had been covered with JB-Weld).

    Truthfully I felt kinda bad, because his son was there and witnessed it all go down.

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  • JJ September 30, 2006 at 11:49 pm

    Well this story was shock to me! And while it inspired some important and educational work, it must be known that I posted that bike and I know it’s history. It was given to me by my uncle and still bears the dealership sticker from their small Eastern Washington city.

    In fact, assuming the woman posted a stolen report on craigslist, I may have even offered to sell my DB to her, cheap (was it the Edlund family?) via responding to a CL posting on August 31rst titled “Stolen DB.”

    Besides that, this bike is too large for me and I would assume a good majority of women. A 61cm top-tube plus a 130 stem would be recipe for an over extension with most folks, despite their sex.

    Person whose bike was stolen, if you’re reading this, I am sorry this was not your bike – and this does illustrate the importance of knowing our bikes intimately. Serial, measurements, and other idiosyncrasies can help identify your bike.

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  • Jonathan Maus October 1, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    Just fyi,

    the screenshot and listing above was chosen completely randomly and has nothing specifically to do with the story. I apologize if my caption caused any confusion.

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  • JJ October 1, 2006 at 9:00 pm

    Ugh 🙁
    So no FBI, and PPD with dogs will wake me up tonight? (as if law enforcement treated bike theft like auto theft)
    Well that’s a bit less stress for the day.

    The diamondback is still for sale if anyone is interested. It would make a good grocery/kid hauler with one of those free radical extensions and some slicks (mustaches w/ bar-end shifters would be nice too! as would my own rivendell, but anyway).
    Seat Tube is 58cm cntr – top.
    if so contact us at : filasafer at gmail.

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  • Patrick October 2, 2006 at 6:24 pm


    To clarify. My bike was stolen I didn’t know it was missing until the thief rode by and I noticed the bike. yeah I guess my post was confusing but I think you get the idea…..

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  • Tage January 3, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    Arrange to meet the guy, show up early on foot, lean against a car like it’s yours when he shows up. Then ask if you can “test ride” the bike…

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  • jeff September 7, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    re: Tage,


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