Many of us use online marketplaces like Craigslist and Facebook to buy and sell second-hand items. It’s a great way to find deals and save money, but you don’t always know who you are dealing with. And, you don’t always know what you are buying. One problem that is becoming more common is that people are selling stolen goods through these platforms. Victims who have unknowingly bought stolen goods often wonder if there are any legal implications. If you find yourself in this predicament, here’s what you should know about the laws regulating stolen goods.
What Are the Laws If You Unknowingly Bought Stolen Goods?
Chances are that you never intended to buy stolen contraband. So, even if you unknowingly bought stolen goods, it is highly unlikely that you will face criminal charges. In order for the prosecution to pursue legal action, they would have to prove that you knew it was stolen. Therefore, if you didn’t know the item was stolen, then you didn’t know that you broke the law.
However, once it is discovered, you will have to return the stolen goods to the rightful owner. And, failure to comply with the law or make an attempt to locate the owner could lead to a theft offense. Depending on the jurisdiction and the value of the item, it could result in a felony or misdemeanor charge.
Although you don’t get to keep the item, that doesn’t mean that you will have to eat the cost for someone else’s bad decisions. If you suffered any financial losses, you can request a refund from the seller or file a lawsuit for restitution.
How Do You Know If You Bought Stolen Goods?
Agreeing to buy or even store stolen goods means that you are liable for the property if you get caught with it. However, other than having someone directly tell you, it can be difficult to determine whether or not you have purchased a stolen item. But, if you have suspicions, there are several red flags that may indicate the items are hot.
If the prices are too good to be true, they probably are.
When people sell items well below their market value, it is usually a sign that something isn’t right. If the seller seems especially motivated to make a deal, it might be in your best interest to steer clear.
Don’t buy things from questionable vendors.
It goes without saying that you probably shouldn’t be shopping for jewelry, shoes, or handbags out of someone’s trunk. The merchandise is questionable at best and stolen in the worst-case scenario. So, if a sketchy vendor approaches you with a “great deal,” they are probably trying to move the stolen goods before they are traced back to the thief.
Inspect the items before you buy them.
Before you hand over any money, take a closer look at the item for any identifying personal information. This could include serial numbers, titles, or proof of purchase. If the owner’s name doesn’t match the seller’s information, then you have a major red flag. You should always ask questions before you buy. And, if your instincts tell you it is stolen, you can always check with your local police department to see if any reports have been filed.
What Should You Do If You Have Unknowingly Bought Stolen Goods?
If you made a mistake and bought stolen goods, don’t panic! Remind yourself that you did not willingly commit the crime and are not guilty. Here are the next steps you should take if you find yourself in this situation.
1. Seek legal advice.
If you aren’t sure what to do, it is always a good idea to seek professional legal advice. They will advise you of your rights and the appropriate course of action to protect yourself and your assets. It can be extremely helpful to have a voice of reason, especially when emotions are running high.
2. Record the details of the transaction.
The next thing you should do is establish the facts and collect any information you have about the transaction. Hold on to any receipts and record as many details about the transaction as possible. This will be helpful to the investigation and remove any suspicion if authorities contact you for information.
3. Report it to the police.
If you discover that you have unknowingly bought stolen goods, you should also report it to the police. They will attempt to find the rightful owner and return their property to them. Once you file a report, they will investigate the seller and any others who may have also purchased stolen items. And, if you used an online marketplace, you should also report the seller to the site admin. By bringing it to their attention, you could be helping others from becoming victims.
4. Request a refund.
While sometimes knowing you did the right thing is reward enough, you shouldn’t have to pay the price for someone else’s crimes. So, after you turn the item over to the police or return it to the owner, you should request a refund from the seller. If they were also unaware that you were dealing with stolen items, most sellers will refund your money. Be sure to bring them a copy of the police report to back up your story. They will probably have several questions since it may have more legal implications for them as well.
5. Seek restitution
Unfortunately, not all sellers are so happy to honor the request. If the seller refuses to refund your money, you can file a lawsuit and seek restitution. Depending on the amount you paid for the item, you can take your case to small claims court. It is a simpler process than the criminal court which means you will get your money faster if the judge rules in your favor. But first, you must file an affidavit to initiate the lawsuit which you can obtain from the clerk at the county courthouse.
The truth is that anyone could find themselves facing this situation if you buy and sell things through local marketplaces. Although you can never completely eliminate the risk, the best advice is to remain cautious, look for red flags, and never purchase items under suspicious circumstances.