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How to deal with a stolen instrument.


skiingfiddler
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The question is, How do you deal with an instrument which you could acquire, but is obviously stolen? What's the right thing to do if what you want is to get the fiddle back to the proper owner?

What do you do as a shop owner, or maybe as a private buyer, say, from classified ads, if you're presented with an instrument which is obviously stolen? Do you go ahead and buy it, in order to keep it from disappearing, and with the intent of turning it in? Your noble efforts may mean losing whatever you pay for it, since the thief may have spent your payment before he's caught. Or do you refuse the instrument, and by the time the police respond to your report, the trail is cold and the instrument gone?

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The question is, How do you deal with an instrument which you could acquire, but is obviously stolen? What's the right thing to do if what you want is to get the fiddle back to the proper owner?

What do you do as a shop owner, or maybe as a private buyer, say, from classified ads, if you're presented with an instrument which is obviously stolen? Do you go ahead and buy it, in order to keep it from disappearing, and with the intent of turning it in? Your noble efforts may mean losing whatever you pay for it. Or do you refuse the instrument, and by the time the police respond to your report, the trail is cold and the instrument gone?

Report it.

One case stolen items (expensive bows in this case) I experienced involved a person who used to post here, two or three Chicago shops (one a multi generational one) and the FBI.

The only details I feel comfortable disclosing: I was offered some of the bows. I asked if I could hold and examine them. I had some growing concern with their origin & title. Meanwhile, all hell broke loose in Chicago and I was alerted. I turned them over to the FBI. The shop received their property back.

Another case concerned a violin supplied by a colleague that didn't pass muster when it came to ownership/title. It was returned to the colleague, turned over to the authorities, and eventually was returned to the owner.

A third involved a Tourte... the specific twisted details of which I don't feel comfortable outlining here... but that ended up offered to me. The selling agent (probably an innocent) did not want to leave it for any length of time (probably instructions from the person who gave it to them), so I couldn't gain control of it. I called the insurance agent who had paid of the initial claim and told him where the bow was/had just been. I never heard what happened in the end.

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Jeffrey,

It sounds like your method of dealing with such situations is to try to take possession or control of the instrument long enough in order to alert the police, but without paying anything to gain possession.

As an alternative to paying for the instrument to gain possession, your method makes sense in that a dealer avoids risking their own funds, and also the dealer avoids any period of time when the instrument is technically the dealer's property. If the police happened to show up directly after the dealer purchased the stolen instrument, maybe the police would not be willing to believe that the very next thing the dealer was going to do after acquiring the instrument is to turn it in.

I'm guessing you might feel that it's probably never a good idea for anybody to pay for a suspected stolen item with the intend of gaining control and turning it in.

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I run into this far more than I would like. Not in the violin part of our biz, but we purchase about 2 mil dollars a year in used instruments/equipment and stolen instruments are bound to be a regular part of our life, like it, or not. I have, in the past, paid for instruments to get them back to their owners, but in very rare cases and ones where the dollars paid are very low. Typically, we bluff the seller, saying the instrument came up stolen on our computers (this, of course is if you KNOW that it's stolen), and we are taking possesion of it. If they want to dispute this, they can wait for the police to show up. They almost always mumble something proclaiming as they being the victims and walk off. Before this, we will have already taken their driver license and started to fill out the police forms required in California by ALL second hand used equipment dealers. That way we have their info for the cops, for them to do what they will. Since it's required in Ca to fill out this form with their driver license (and we do it on the computer)it's easy to bluff our way into this. Only once has this turned sour (irate large guy)and we just gave it to him. Too late for him since we had his license info. I hate getting into these situations, but such is the reality. We also get stung many times with buying stolen gear and not knowing it. It's not that we get in any trouble, just loose the money. In California, if you fill out the required form and turn them in (JUS123) and hold for your 30 days, then no one can charge you will unlawfully purchasing stolen property, but that won't get you your money back either. The point I'd really like to make, is that all situations are different and taking into account those differences and what you are trying to achieve makes how you deal with different too. jeff

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Typically, we bluff the seller, saying the instrument came up stolen on our computers (this, of course is if you KNOW that it's stolen), and we are taking possesion of it. If they want to dispute this, they can wait for the police to show up.

Jeff,

I admire your willingness to turn the situation into a straight forward, open confrontation, in order to get the right thing done. It sounds like the results have worked for you. I don't think I would have the steady nerves needed for that kind of confrontation.

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Report it.

I have had one of my commissoned instruments walk one time. It took 9 months for the instrument to come back to me but eventually I got the instrument back on my bench.

--- EDIT...

but never ever ever.. if for even the slightest moment you get the idea that you are putting yourself in a situation where your safety might be an issue.. drop it. Its not worth it. But after the situation I went through with that instrument, its best to report it and get instruments back to their rightful owners.

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