What to do when you find your stolen bike for sale on Facebook Marketplace

Did your stolen bike wind up for sale on Facebook Marketplace? If so, this article is for you.

Online sales sites like Facebook Marketplace, Offerup, and Craigslist are all fertile grounds for bike thieves and bike fences, mainly because they are fast, free, and relatively anonymous places to sell stolen goods with little to no oversight.

Each online sales service has its own little quirks that can help you ID and chase your bike, though, so we'll focus on what to do with Facebook Mareketplace here. If your stolen bike is on Offerup or Craigslist, see our other write-ups - "What to do if you find your stolen bike for sale online on Offerup" and "What to do if you find your stolen bike for sale online on Craigslist"

Fortunately, Facebook Marketplace tends to give up a little more information for us to use than, say, Craigslist, because the service itself is tied to people's Facebook profiles. Yes, thieves are dumb enough to try and fence stolen bikes under their own real names.

So: Here's what you should do if your stolen bike winds up for sale on Facebook Marketplace

Facebook Marketplace will not lift a finger to help you, period. Don't even try. You can click 'report this ad' or 'report seller' but I can pretty much guarantee you literally nothing will happen.

Facebook has no functional customer service, and to be honest they've repeatedly demonstrated that they do not care that Marketplace is used to fence stolen goods. There is literally nobody behind the scenes at FB Marketplace who is going to care, or help you.

Point being: don't waste your time contacting Facebook.

Next, Take a screenshot of the ad and all the accompanying photos

The first thing you want to do is to take screenshots of the ad, including all of the individual photos of the bike, and save them somewhere on your computer for later.

You need to do this because thieves often remove and relist their Facebook Marketplace ads with regularity in order to avoid detection. So it is important you grab screenshots of the ad while it is still there - i.e. before the bad guy pulls the ad down and you can't see it anymore.

We recommend you do this on a desktop (instead of a mobile device) because you'll get larger, more detailed images, but you can work with whatever is available to you.

On Windows, you can either use the Snipping Tool to grab and save an image, or you can press the Windows + Printscreen keys at the same time which will save a screenshot to your 'Screenshots' folder, which is typically found in C:\Users(your username)\Pictures\Screenshots

On a Mac, you can take a screenshot as described here - basically press keys Shift - Command - 3 all at the same time, and this will save a screenshot to your desktop.

Take a screencap of the ad itself, then be sure to click through to each one of the images posted with the ad. Take a screenshot of those too, so you capture the maximum amount of detail from each and every image.

If you want, you can also "save a copy" of the ad to a folder on your desktop, however this is often less useful than just having screenshots - and this typically doesn't work that well with Facebook because of the way their pages are structured. Typically this is done in your browser, just right click anywhere in the ad and choose "Save Page As" and save it somewhere on your computer.

Next, examine the seller's profile and other things for sale

Facebook makes it pretty easy to see more info about the seller and what they are selling.

If you click the 'Seller details' link to the right of the ad, you'll get a pop overlay showing the seller name, a link to their profile, and also other Marketplace listings from the same seller.

Drop the "available & in stock" selector down to "All listings" so we can see more items from this seller

Next, try and see if ads from the same seller contain more stolen bikes or items of interest

If a Facebook bad guy has your bike, he probably has other stolen bikes or stolen goods, too, so we're going to try and search for other ads from the same seller.

Why would you want to do this? Because it makes all the difference between calling police and saying "I found my stolen bike for sale on Facebook " and saying "I found my stolen bike along with six others for sale on Facebook ", which will likely get police more interested. Also, if you can cross reference bikes from the same seller to other Bike Index listings, it's pretty easy to connect all the victims with the same officer or detective, if you can get one involved.

In general, what we're looking for are other bikes, other stolen goods, maybe other photos that will betray more information about the seller. Go look for things like photos of locations, photos showing seller face or details, photos showing car license plates, etc. You'd be surprised what you can find when you look hard enough at a seller's online listings - often they are posting images that will betray more information about who they are, where they are, and the other stolen goods they are selling.

In this example, there is one standout item in this seller's sales - the $3500 "Pctel Hbflex Scanner For Testing 5g" item, which is a highly specialized piece of hardware. This stands out from all the rest of the items - which simply look like they were looted from somebody's open garage.

In this case the seller was nice enough to even post a photo of the serial number. The special nature of this device, coupled with the serial number, may be the thing that get police interested in them even if they aren't interested in your stolen bike. This is the kind of thing you are looking for.

In short: It's also not uncommon for other special items bad guys are selling to be of more interest to police, because those items came from a burglary or other specific crime, so - you never know. Screencap all their other items for sale, if you have time.

Again: by dropping the "available & in stock" selector down to "All listings" you can see the rest of the items that seller still has up on Facebook Marketplace. Give it a quick scan and look for other bikes. If you find bikes, then:

  • Cross check their other ads against stolen bikes in your area in Bike Index
  • If you find any potential matches, message that other Bike Index registrant with a link to the ad in Facebook Marketplace
  • Keep a running tally of how many other stolen bikes you can find. The more you can nail down to the same seller, the more likelihood of getting police assistance

This may take some time and a little work, but again, it's way more likely for you to get police assistance if you can bring them multiple bikes/multiple crimes instead of just your single stolen bike.

Next - see if they also posted it to Offerup or Craigslist

Thieves and fences often post their stolen goods on multiple platforms to move it as fast as possible. So: If your stolen bike is on Facebook, make sure you also check Offerup and Craigslist to see if it is posted there as well. If it is, screencap those ads too - you may just get lucky and the thief may let their name, email, phone, or location slip.

Lastly, call your local cops - but also see if there are any local anti-theft groups you can liaise with

Now that you have captured this data - screenshots of the ad, any names/data on the seller, and any other ads from the same seller that may also be for stolen bikes (or stolen goods) - call whatever local police you filed with and see if you can get their assistance.

At the time of writing this article (January 2023) not many police departments are offering help with stolen bikes found online. Your mileage may vary, depending on what city you are in. Typically these are factors that will help you get police help:

  • If your bike was stolen in a home or business break-in and not just a simple off-the-street theft
  • If your bike is more expensive than usual
  • If you have matched other stolen bikes to the same seller
  • If you have identified specific details in the ads you have captured that make you 100% certain the ad is for your stolen bike, and can explain these to the officers

So: keep the above in mind before you call.

Regardless of whether you get police help, it's also good to see if there are any local anti-theft Facebook groups for your area where you can liaise with people there. In many cities there are already anti-theft folks tracking known thieves and trading information (like screenshots) with each other to identify the bad guys in their cities.

In some cases, if you post "this seller has my stolen bike" to these groups, those groups may already know the sellers name and location and can advise you further. Working with these groups is often key to putting all the pieces together on bad guys who repeatedly sell stolen bikes online.

Thanks for reading, and we hope we can help you get your stolen bike back!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://bikeindex.org/news/what-to-do-when-you-find-your-stolen-bike-for-sale-on-facebook-marketp
2 Likes

Thanks for this great blog entry and for BikeIndex… It’s really an amazing project. Has bike index ever considered creating a script which users on Bike Index who report a theft can automatically activate to crawl Facebook MP, Craiglist etc.? I just had a bike stolen and would definitely pay for this service. I see the paid for FB promotion service, but I wonder if a tool that kept pinging these sites for bikes that matched your stolen bike description and sent you alerts would be a powerful product… Especially with AI image recognition…could really be revolutionary and something student engineering teams and the open source community might really get behind. Again, thanks for helping tackle this problem.

1 Like