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Frame register database and buyer information on avoiding stolen bikes could easily be implemented, say theft prevention experts

Gumtree has been accused of failing to take simple steps to tackle sales of stolen bikes on its website after sitting on a website bolt-on for 11 months that would help inform buyers whether or not a cycle is stolen.

BikeRegister says it gave Gumtree information in early May 2018, to create a bolt-on for buyers to check frame numbers against bikes registered as stolen, in the same way Gumtree does with cars, but the online platform hasn’t yet acted. The London Cycling Campaign says police, campaigners and BikeRegister have long argued for guidance on listings to help buyers avoid potentially stolen bikes, something Gumtree has also not yet done.

According to police, 52% of stolen bikes are sold through an online shopping and auction site, and while the BikeRegister database contains more than 820,000 bikes, a fraction of the three million-odd bikes sold every year, the bolt-on could help reduce demand.

James Brown, Managing Director of Selectamark, BikeRegister’s parent company, told an All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group meeting while he “accepts and respects” Gumtree is a commercial organisation, he expressed frustration. “I think Gumtree are doing loads of really good stuff around trying to prevent crime happening on their platform.”

“On their car listings section they have a bolt on with HPI, which is a vehicle checker, so we developed a similar bolt-on for bicycles and provided the API to Gumtree and 11 months down the line we’re still knocking on the door saying ‘have you had time to implement that yet?’ and they haven’t.”

“It’s frustrating because it’s built, it’s there, it’s ready for them to put it into their system and they’re already using something similar for vehicles.”

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Tales of people finding their stolen bikes on Gumtree are common, with some choosing to try to get their bikes back alone. Adverts for stolen bikes are often accompanied by poor quality or stock photos, and little information about the bike or the seller. 

The London Cycling Campaign’s Tom Bogdanowicz said people inadvertently buying stolen bikes online helps fuel theft. "[Buyers] could get done for handling stolen goods, buy a faulty bike or have insurance refused,” he added.

Bogdanowicz called on Gumtree to “act responsibly” and inform website users against buying stolen. The website already warns people on avoiding stolen pets, with a link on each pet sales listing – and though information on avoiding stolen bikes has existed on Gumtree’s website since 2013, he points out, “unfortunately it’s hard to find”.

“If every online cycle buyer saw a guide about the dangers of buying stolen they might think twice about buying a suspect cycle: we call on Gumtree to act responsibly and link all cycle buyers to a message about avoiding stolen bike sales – just as they alert pet buyers,” Bogdanowicz said.

“The obvious thing to do is ask the seller to provide photo ID and a photo of the bike frame number.”

He said past collaborations between the Metropolitan (Met) Police Cycle Taskforce, BikeRegister and Gumtree to reduce online sales of stolen bikes and educate bike owners about good locking reduced cycle theft in London by 10% in a year, before the Taskforce was disbanded.

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Bogdanowicz said: “We have seen cycle theft grow significantly in London since because there is less police attention to it.

“If we don’t want people to stop cycling because their bikes are nicked both the Met and Gumtree needed to renew action to discourage it.”

He said: “The Met, Bike Register and LCC all argued for a cycle-specific, stolen goods warning and guide shown to all bike buyers but [Gumtree] kept putting this off.

“They went to the trouble of making one but, as far as I can see, it doesn’t ever appear. And it’s not because they can’t do it.”

Police in a new cycle theft taskforce say they will work with online sellers like Ebay and Gumtree, as well as their ongoing work with BikeRegister, in tackling online sales of stolen bikes.

Brown added: “Out of all the online market places, I believe Gumtree are by far the most forward-thinking when it comes to preventing online fraud and working collaboratively with the police and other organisations. The investment they have put into this should be recognised and applauded, and I hope it continues with the implementation of the BikeRegister bicycle checker.”

Gumtree has not yet responded with a comment.

This article was changed on 1 April to say Gumtree sat on a bolt-on for 11 months. It previously said Gumtree sat on data for 11 months. 

It also said 52% of bikes sold online go through Gumtree; this should have been 52% of stolen bikes are sold through an online shopping and auction site  - the article was changed to reflect that.