How Do I Protect Myself From Purchasing Stolen Goods Online 

 September 19, 2014

By  LMW Attorneys

It is an unfortunate fact that some items you see for sale online may be stolen property. Craigslist is often cited as a website in which people have unknowingly purchased stolen goods. You’re not likely to be liable for buying a stolen item if you did not know and did not suspect it had been stolen, but if a purchased item is found to be stolen property, police may confiscate it.

Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself from buying stolen goods. An advertisement having one of the issues below doesn’t necessarily mean the item in question was stolen, but you’ll want to inquire about the item if you see warning signs, and ensure the seller’s response doesn’t arouse suspicion.

Suspicious Advertisements

Advertisements may contain warning signs that could indicate stolen property. Using stock photos of an item instead of pictures of the actual product, as well as an over-eager tone.  An inadequate description of the item can also be a sign that the seller is unfamiliar with the item’s history, and law enforcement has noted thieves sometimes spell out digits of phone numbers in an attempt to hide their information.

Abnormally Low Prices

If the price of an item is significantly lower than usual, there is a possibility the item was stolen. Thieves who steal property often want to get rid of it as quickly as possible, and undercut more typical prices to do this. Generally speaking, legitimate online sellers will want to sell their items at a fair price.

Serial Numbers and Other Identifying Information

When stolen electronic items are reported to police, reports often contain identifying characteristics of stolen property, and the most common example of this is serial numbers. If you are suspicious that an electronic device has been stolen, request the serial number of the device if it has one. You’d certainly be justified in being suspicious of sellers refusing to provide this information.

Ask About the Item If Red Flags Arise

If you see any of these warning signs when shopping for items online, you’ll want to ask questions any owner of the item would know, such as where the item originally came from and what experiences the seller had with it. If the seller can’t provide convincing information, you may be better off looking at other listings.

What To Do If You Encounter a Listing for an Item You Believe May Have Been Stolen?

Never knowingly purchase stolen property, even if the item was once your own. You may wish to note identifying information of the property such as its appearance, the date and time of the listing, any serial numbers, and the place where the item is being sold. All this information will help police recover the property if you decide to report the listing to law enforcement.