In an earlier article I covered how important keeping a gear list is. In that article I focused on the tax and insurance benefits of gear lists. There is, however, one other major reason to keep a gear list: recovering gear that has been stolen.
If some of your gear does get stolen, providing the police with a list of the taken items’s serial numbers and searching places where people sell second hand electronics may go some way towards getting it back. With a small bit of forethought, though, you can have a network of tens of thousands of other photographers combing the internet for evidence of who stole your gear.
This week it worked out for Gary Fraley, who, with the help of Lenstag, was able to recover his Nikon D300s, two lenses, flash and battery grip.
Lenstag is a two part solution designed to help recover stolen photography gear. The first is an iOS, Android and web app that lets you create a verified gear list. The second is a browser extension - currently only available for Chrome although a Firefox port is in the works - that scans the metadata of any images on the pages you visit for the serial numbers of the gear that was used to make them.
Creating a Gear List
The process of adding gear to your Lenstag gear list is simple. Click on the + icon in the mobile apps or the Add Gear button on the website and enter the make, model and serial number of the item you want to add. To confirm that you do actually own the items your adding, you need to take a photo of their serial numbers; someone at Lenstag will verify the information you provide. You obviously can’t add any item that has already been added, by someone else, to Lenstag.
If your gear has already been stolen, you can still use Lenstag, however the verification process is more difficult as you will have to provide some other proof of ownership.
Tip: The mobile apps allow you to use your phone’s camera to take the verification picture.
Finding Stolen Photos
While the main focus of Lenstag is on finding stolen gear, it can also help you find stolen photos. Once you have created your gear list, and it has been verified by Lenstag, you will start to receive emails whenever someone, who has the browser extension installed, visits a page that contains images taken with your gear.
Every time a new Tuts+ tutorial is published that includes photos I took with my camera I get an email from Lenstag within a few hours. If I stole one of your images and used it in this tutorial instead, you’d get an email and you could contact my editor and get me in big trouble.
Recovering Stolen Gear
If your gear is stolen, one of the first things to do is to log in to your Lenstag account and click on the Report Stolen Gear button. You’ll be prompted to provide information about the circumstances around the theft, your name and phone number.
Once you report your gear as stolen, it gets added to Lenstag’s list of stolen items. They also create a search engine friendly webpage for each missing item. If someone searches the web for the item’s make and serial number, Lenstag’s page appears at the top informing them it has been stolen. On the page people can provide information related to the stolen gear. If they do, Lenstag will inform you, and potentially law enforcement, as well as do all they can to reunite you with your gear.
At the same time, Lenstag’s network of browsers are scanning sites for any new images posted. If someone has bought the stolen items and uploaded pictures taken with them you’ll be informed of where they’re posted. This is what helped Gary Fraley recover his gear.
Lenstag also helps photographers to protect themselves when buying gear online. If you buy stolen gear, and learn that it is stolen, it is illegal for you to keep it. Not only are you morally and legally responsible to help ensure the victim gets their gear back, but you are also out of pocket.
If you are buying gear online, Lenstag helps you do due diligence to check that it is not stolen. Simply searching the item’s make and serial number will turn up a stolen gear page, if it has been reported missing to Lenstag.
Even better, if the seller is also using Lenstag, they can create a verification link, like this one for my Canon 40mm prime so that you know it is theirs to sell and not stolen.
Obviously Lenstag would have a massive flaw if it was impossible to sell anything you had added to it—the legal second hand photography market is huge. Lenstag makes it easy to transfer gear between accounts; when you’ve sold an item legally, click on the Transfer button. Enter the email address of the buyer as well as your password to confirm everything and then the item will be transferred to their Lenstag account.
There are no compelling reasons why you shouldn't sign up for Lenstag today. The more photographers that use it, the more secure everyone’s gear becomes. If it reaches the point that a significant number of photographers have all their gear on Lenstag and a verification link becomes an essential part of selling gear online, profiting off stolen cameras and lenses will become significantly harder. Even if Lenstag never reaches such ubiquity, having a network of other photographers searching for evidence of who has your stolen gear is still likely to help you recover it; it's worked before and it's worked again this week.