Theft victims turn to social media to recover stolen items

Theft victims turn to social media to recover stolen items

(NPN) - Back in the day, when your dog wandered off, you posted a picture on a telephone pole. If someone broke into your house, you filed a police report and maybe called a few pawn shops, just in case someone tried to sell what they took from you.

These days, social media is becoming the tool to turn to when you've been victimized, and it's turning many of your friends and followers into new age Crimestoppers.

This rare Gibson SG guitar is priceless to Karyn Locke's family, so when it was stolen from her home recently, she pulled out all the stops to make sure it was recovered.

"After we filed a police report I jumped right on the computer, and it was very easy to think of that as the next step to get our guitar back," Locke said.

She posted a photo of the stolen guitar and a plea for friends to spread the word and find her prized possession, hoping someone would see it.

"It's almost like that commercial where they tell two friends and they tell two friends," Locke said.

Her post was shared 2,000 times in two days.

"The people that you know who are friends with you on Facebook, or followers of you on Twitter, they're more likely to share your own information, so you have an audience that cares about you and they want to see you get help.  They want to see you get justice," said Sgt. Eric Gripp, who consults on social media consultant to law enforcement agencies.

Gripp says this tactic of sharing video and pictures related to the crime has worked well for law enforcement for years, and now, regular citizens are willing to take matters into their own hands.

"They're not averse to taking a picture of something themselves, taking surveillance footage, a private camera they might have, putting it online themselves and just saying as a catch-all to their neighbors, 'hey, this person broke into my car does anyone recognize them?'" Gripp said.

There are also sites like Crimeseen, which allows registered members to receive real-time alerts letting them know when a report is filed in their area, or new apps such as Nextdoor, designed to raise awareness of local cases where users often post alerts or requests for tips about crimes.

Lauri Stevens, a social media strategist for law enforcement, said it's human nature to help.

"People want to see bad guys go to jail.  They want safe communities. With social media, now it's just so much easier to do that.  We can sit with our phone on the couch and actually participate," Stevens said.

Stevens compares this new age Crimestoppers to an online neighborhood watch. She said social media posted by the average person is especially helpful in missing persons cases or theft.

"It's good to have these kinds of tools as a citizen to be able to solve some of these crimes ourselves," Stevens said.

But Gripp cautions people to be careful. He said you don't want to share too much about your case or your crime online, and when sharing surveillance video.

"You can't just think because 'oh, this is just somebody who stole a package off my property, they might not be dangerous,'" he said.

Law enforcement experts say when soliciting social media help for a crime, you need to keep authorities as involved as possible, especially if someone contacts you saying they have your property.

In Locke's case, someone on Facebook reached out saying they had the missing guitar.

"I contacted the police to let them know that somebody did have my guitar and asked the next steps that I needed to take, so I would remain safe," she said.

Police arranged a meeting to return the guitar to Locke's grateful family. She knows it's due to her online Crimestopping crew.

"Never underestimate the power of social media," she said.

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