How to Know if a Bike is Stolen (Tips & Red Flags)

So you’re in the market for a new bike to ride, and there’s a great offer on a bike that’s exactly what you’re looking for. It would be perfect for you, but you’re hesitant, because something feels off. The price is a little too good or the reason for selling seems weird. You start wondering whether this bike is actually the seller’s or is this bike being sold is actually stolen property.

It’s a fair and reasonable thought to have, because hundreds of thousands of bikes are stolen each year. While some thieves steal bikes so that they can personally use them, most bikes are sold to others for profit.

How to know if a bike is stolen? A definitive way to find out if its stolen is by asking for the bike’s serial number and putting it into a bike registry database to check. Also Look for red flags such as too good of a price, spray painted bike, or a seller who gives little information.

In this article, I will lay out a few ideas and tips on what you can do to check if a bike is stolen or not. The last thing you want is to have bought a stolen bicycle.

Red Flags that the Bike is Stolen

The Price is too Good – It’s exciting to see a product that you want go for an incredibly low price. How lucky that you found such a great deal! Unfortunately, if you come across a bike being sold for a price that seems too good than it’s probably a scam or stolen. Thieves want to get rid of the evidence as soon as possible, and a cheap price is guaranteed to sell quickly.

The Ad Uses Stock Photos – You want to see actual photos of the bicycle in the advertisement. If the advertisement is clearly using stock photos, and not real photos of the bike in its present state than you should be wary about purchasing. Thieves use stock photos so that the police or the real owner of the bike doesn’t see their stolen bike online. If the advertisement doesn’t have photos attached you should ask to have photos sent to you.

Ads with Little Detail & Expect you to Buy Now – It’s a clear sign that a bike is likely stolen if the advertisement has hardly any information on it, and is prompting the buyer to buy today. Ads that only include a brief description such as “Yellow Road Bike – $250. Must Buy Today!” are suspicious.

Anonymous Sellers – No one wants their identity pasted across the internet, and so some anonymity from a seller is fine. When I sell products online I’m not putting all my information on the ad. I will only release pertinent information when there’s a potential buyer, and only to that individual. Thieves will give you as little information as possible. Perhaps a first name, but no email, phone number, etc..

The Sellers Sells Lots of Bikes – If you’re using Craigslist or another selling platform and it becomes clear that the same person is selling or has a history of selling lots of bicycles than you should steer clear! Unless they are a local bike shop owner, it’s weird that someone would be acquiring and selling so many bikes.

The Bicycle isn’t the same as Advertised – It’s not uncommon for potential buyers to meet a seller, and upon arrival find out that the bike being sold doesn’t match the bike that was advertised. It’s a sneaky tactic used so that the real owner won’t notice their bike in the ads. If the size, color, brand or anything varies from what was advertised you should be cautious about buying.

Spray Paint – Thieves will spray paint a bicycle to mask its original color. There’s plenty of cyclists who’ve found their stolen bikes, but they were a different color when recovered. If the bike you’re buying is spray painted – you should think twice.

Damaged Bike – If you’re like me you always lock your bike up when its outside. Many bikes are stolen by having their locks cut off them. This could cause damage to the frame or wheels. If you notice damage on the bicycle, ask how the scratches or dents got there.

Check the Serial Number

where is bike serial number

All bicycle have serial numbers stamped (some are heavy duty stickers) on them that distinguish them from other bikes. These serial numbers can be in different places on different bikes depending on brand and model. The photo above shows the common locations of the bike serial number. If you’re having a difficult time finding your serial number you can consult this article How to Find your Bike’s Serial Number for more help.

Before you even purchase the bicycle you should ask for the serial number, and put it into a bike registry database. These databases allow bikes to be registered online, and if they’re stolen the owner can alert the database. Many stolen bikes have been recovered thanks to these databases.

This is so important! Make sure to get the serial number, and check the databases below to make sure the bicycle doesn’t come up as stolen. If it does – you should contact the authorities.

If you live in the United States, you put the serial number into bikeregistry.com or bikeindex.org.

If you live in the United Kingdom, you can put the serial number into checkthatbike.co.uk.

If you put the bike that’s being sold serial number in this system it shouldn’t come up as stolen.

If the bike seller can’t give you a serial number than you should stay far away! That is a sure-fire way that they know the bike is stolen. If you’re looking over the bike, and there are stickers covering up a serial number or if the serial number is scratched out, that’s another huge red flag that this bike is very likely to be stolen.

Ask Lots of Questions

Questions related to the bike can be a good way to not only figure out if its stolen, but also just to hear about its history. You can ask the seller if the bike had any work done on it recently. You could ask where they enjoy riding at? Why are they selling this bicycle? If they can’t answer any of these questions or give vague answers you may want to back out of the deal.

Choose to buy the bike at a location that is public. You don’t want to meet this person in a secluded area or even your own home. Find a location that’s well trafficked and open so that there’s no chance that any sketchy business goes on.

What to do if you bought a stolen bike?

Buying a used bicycle is a great way to get a bike. It’s good for the environment, and used bikes are often cheaper than a brand new one. With this said, I hope you put into practice all of the preventative tips mentioned so that you don’t end up buying a stolen bike.

But what happens if you do end up with a stolen bike? What should you do? If you do end up having a stolen bike in your possession and even if you purchased it from someone in good faith, you need to report it to the police. They will likely take it from you.

It’s unfortunate that you are now out of money and without a bicycle, but at the same time – think of the person who had their bike stolen from them initially. They want it back, and if they filed a police report they’ll now be able to get it back.

It’s a total bummer to find out your holding onto a stolen bike which is just another reason why you really should check the serial number of the bike before purchasing it.

What to do if your Bike was Stolen?

Lastly, if you’ve arrived here AND it’s because your bike has been stolen. First off, I’m sorry that happened to you. I’ve had bicycles stolen from me, and I know that it sucks. In the wake of my own stolen bike experiences, I’ve written another article giving tips on how to recover a stolen bike. You can access that article HERE. I hope these tips help you retrieve your stolen bike!

Over 1.5 million bicycles are stolen each year in the United States. With the rise of cycling as a sport, and with more people looking for alternative means of transportation we will only see more bicycles on the market. If there’s a demand thieves will try to supply with stolen goods. Do due diligence, ask good questions, and be cautious when purchasing a used bike and you’ll be helping reduce the number of stolen bikes sold each year.

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