Sent to you by Chris Hunter via Google Reader:
My very expensive DSLR camera just got stolen. Is there any way I can find the thief and get my camera back?
Peeved at Thieves
We're sorry to hear that. Losing an expensive camera—or having it pilfered from you—definitely sucks. Unfortunately, the chances of getting your camera back are slim, but not all hope is lost. Here are a few things you can try to find and recover your camera.
Use Photo-tracking Sites
Images taken with your camera may automatically be marked with the time and location of the shots. These can be used to your advantage for tracking down your stolen gear.
Check out previously mentioned StolenCameraFinder or similar CameraTrace. These services search or monitor photos uploaded online for your camera's serial number, which is often recorded in the EXIF data of the photos. The serial number can be found on the camera itself (not much help right now when your camera is lost, we know), the original camera box, or existing photos you have. It's probably worth checking both services regularly to see if anything turns up. (StolenCameraFinder also has a Lost & Found registry you can search to see if anyone's reported finding your camera.)
If you find a match, you can try to learn more about the person uploading the photos (e.g., through his Flickr account profile and photos uploaded) and take that info to the police to further track down the camera.
Look for Your Stolen Camera on Craigslist
Many stolen items end up on Craigslist, so you can try searching the site in the hopes your thief is trying to unload your camera there. Jeff Hu writes on PetaPixel how he busted a thief who tried to sell his DSLR. His camera disappeared after he and his roommate hosted a party, which included people he didn't know. He spotted his camera on Craigslist:
This was my camera. Even before looking at the pictures linked to the ad I knew it was my DSLR, with my battery grip, and my lens. The thief had decided to post the listing in the same city he stole it from… the day after he stole it. He didn't bother to at least wait for me to stop checking Craigslist, or even post in a different city.
The pictures in the ad confirmed it was my camera — most importantly, the scratch on the door of the SD card slot. The ad stated that the camera was a gift, so there was no box, no manuals, not even a lens cap — not fishy at all!
At this point, I knew I was going to get my camera back one way or another.
Hu searched Facebook and found a matching profile of the seller, with the picture revealing he was at Hu's party. Hu then gathered his documentation, including camera box and pictures of the thief, and used Stolen Camera Finder mentioned above to retrieve the serial number for his camera. Undercover cops helped Hu get his camera back, thanks to all that detective work.
Though Hu's story is uncommon, several similar cases have been reported over the years. (One lady got her laptop back after it was taken from her checked luggage by similarly searching Craigslist—and helped the cops find more than a dozen other electronics stolen from travelers' checked bags.) It helps if your camera is customized or has identifiable marks like Hu's did—such as scratches, stickers, or engravings.
To do your own detective work, search Craigslist for your camera's description in both your area and surrounding areas. You can also use previously mentioned Mokriya to search Craigslist for you in the background and alert you when it finds a match.
Stay safe, though. If you find the thief, get the police involved rather than trying to get your camera back yourself!
For the Future: Take a Preemptive Approach
It won't help with your lost camera now, but it's a good reminder to set up tracking for your devices as soon as possible.
You might consider engraving your camera so it's identifiable if police recovers it, adding a "reward if found" label, keeping photo messages on your camera, and creating a note with your contact info on your digital devices for good Samaritans to find.
An Eye-Fi wireless camera card might also be handy disaster prevention for your next camera. If someone uses your camera with the card in it, the card could upload photos that might provide clues (including geo-locator information) to your camera's whereabouts.
If you have homeowner's or renter's insurance, it's also a good idea to add expensive gear, like a camera, to your insurance. Take photos of everything and keep an inventory list with serial numbers and purchase prices, and give your insurance company those records. That way, even if you don't get your pilfered valuables back, you may at least be able to replace it (after paying the insurance deductible).
Photo by InfoMofo.