Responsible digital marketplaces – reducing the ease in which stolen property can be resold

If you’ve spoken to me recently, you’ll know that my beloved bicycle Stella was stolen.

Long story short – I’ve done all the things I can think of to try and trace her. In doing so I’ve realised how easy it is for someone to sell stolen goods online and how little is done by online marketplaces to prevent their platform being used for illegal activities.

Background

Bicycle purchases and bicycle theft have gone through the roof this year as more people take to cycling as a way of getting around and for exercise.

Bike shops have had ridiculous wait times for new bicycles. Sometimes shops are requesting people wait up to 1 year to receive their new toy. Obviously, most people would prefer to receive their new bicycle much sooner than that, and some people would prefer to spend a little less money by buying a bicycle secondhand.

Some of the secondhand bicycles for sale were stolen.

The best bike locks take just over a minute to be cut with high powered discreet tools. I imagine that the number of bicycle thefts increased to plug the gaps in supply and demand. The previous 1-year potential wait time can easily be cut to a matter of days if bought through eBay or similar sites.

Bicycles all have frame numbers. The frame number can be used to identify the bicycle and prove ownership should a bicycle be stolen. If a bicycle is stolen, then the owner can register it as such on one of the two main bicycle databases bikeregister.com or immobilise.com.

However, not all bicycle owners know their frame numbers, and not everyone registers their bike (with the police or one of the databases) when they are stolen. However, some of us do…

The problem

Marketplaces like eBay are apparently where lots of stolen bicycles end up. I’ve heard that sellers of stolen goods often create listings with vague descriptions, unrealistically low prices and ask buyers to pick up and pay in cash or cryptocurrency.

As far as I’m aware – eBay does little to combat the numerous illegal bicycles sold on their platform.

96% said [marketplaces] weren’t doing enough to combat theft

Stolen bike survey

The Solution

eBay could require that each bicycle listed for sale includes the frame number.

Proposed design change to bicycle listing page on eBay

eBay could then either check the number against the databases themselves or include the frame number with the listing details so that prospective buyers can check for themselves if the bicycle is registered as stolen.

Providing prospective buyers with the bicycle frame number so they can check the status of the bicycle could be a very simple fix or an MVP version of this improvement.

This simple change could reduce the number of stolen bicycles sold on eBay and similar platforms. It would also increase the trustworthiness of the items that are listed for sale. I for one have avoided bicycles on eBay because I can’t be sure of their origins and I definitely don’t want to buy a stolen bicycle.

People wanting to sell stolen goods can of course move to another platform, but if more platforms make a committed effort to reduce the ease in which stolen property can be traded on their marketplaces, then they will be less available and less tempting for the a casual punter to buy themselves a bargain, fuelling that economy.

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