The stolen bike sting operation.


I’d recently found a new a job, and I’d moved out of the flat I’d been head tenant of, and moved into long term budget accommodation, a your-own-room-but-shared-facilities deal.

The accommodation is shared with some odd characters, but I was pleasantly surprised that kitchen was tidy, and for the most part it was quiet; it was better than I’d anticipated.

Between jobs, I had one week holiday, which I spent relaxing with my family.

The Heist

I came back with a few days spare to sort things out before starting the new job, buying clothes etc.

When I went to get my bike to start a shopping mission – the bike was gone.

I text my landlord to ask if he’d perhaps moved it or knew what happened to it, but his phone was off.

I figured it had probably been stolen, and I got on with my day, including visiting the police station to file a report.

The Investigation

I started looking on the Facebook buy/sell groups – knowing that they’re a common place for dodgy activity, including fencing stolen goods.

At 6:30pm, I was on my way home, when my request to join one of the groups was approved – and there it was – my bike is a distinct orange – and here was a seller selling an orange bike of the same make.


I added a comment indicated I was interested in buying the bike. I also wanted him to post pictures, so I could confirm it was my bike.


Here’s the photo that he referenced:

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He’s posted a stock store¬†photo taken from the internet. Apparently he doesn’t have camera. This is suspicious – who doesn’t have a camera these days?

(The blanked out profile is a third, uninvolved person).

Also – lets note the seller’s profile – it’s pretty empty – no profile picture, no activity.


I private message him to arrange purchase of the bike.


We arrange to meet at 9:30pm, outside a shop in the middle of town. This suits me, as it’s close the central police station – and it isn’t too isolated. The meet is to take place in two hours.

I contact the police at the police station – explain what’s happening and they ask me to come into the police station with my phone to show them the conversation.

The Plan

I catch the bus in, this takes about thirty minutes.

At the police station, we go over what’s happened again. The woman cop I’m talking to explains that they need to first be sure that I own the bike, and this bike is infact mine.

She takes photos of the conversations and Facebook threads.

She asks if I have any photos of the bike. As it is – the only photo of the bike I’ve taken is this one from my instagram – when I’d broken it.

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I look through my Facebook photos, perhaps I took a photo when I bought the bike, but there’s none there.

I do find emails in my email account from the Trade Me transaction buying the bike, and a couple of service jobs.

The cop seems satisfied that I do own an orange Avanti bike.

At this point, it’s about 9:30, the time I’m meant to be meeting this guy.

The cop tells me to go meet the guy, they’ll park around the corner, and I’m to text them to confirm it’s mine.

I message the guy to say I’m running late, and I’m bit nervous that he’s going to be spooked and leave before I meet him.


As I walk to the meeting place, about ten minutes away, I think about how I’m going to lead him to the police. What if he’s parked around the corner in a dodgy car park? What if he insists on me handing over cash before I see the bike? My plan is tell him I need to go to an ATM for cash, and lead him to the police that way – but that’s not going to work if he’s insisting on cash up front.

The Sting

I get there, and two guys are sitting in a car and they signal me.

The guy in the passenger seat gets out. It’s a small, young guy, who seems a little familiar, I might have met him before at the accommodation I live at. My fears that I might be beaten up by some hard gangsters are alleviated.

He opens the boot, and sure enough, it’s my bike.

I tell him, ‘I just gotta text my friend’, and text the cop that it’s my bike.

We get it out, and I examine. I ask to ride the bike for a bit, and he’s a little nervous that I’m going to ride off with it, but lets me.

I ride the bike for a bit, and express excitement about getting a sweet bike.

I tell him that I gotta get money from an ATM, and does he want to walk with me there.

I pause to text the cop the license plate of the car. I’m worried that it looks suspicious, especially as I have to turn to look at the number plate twice. And is he looking at my phone to see what I’m texting?

Evidently not – he walks with me, me walking the bike toward the ATM.

I don’t even see the cops until they’re right in front us, and they want to chat to him about the sale of this bike.

He quickly confesses to them – that he used to live at the accommodation it was stolen from, (without any prompting from the cops about where it was stolen from), that it was his friend who cut the chain with bolt cutters and loaded in to this guy’s car.

After a bit, the cops ask me if I want to make a complaint (I do) and tell me to walk the bike back to police station, where I make a statement.

When the statement is complete, I ride the bike, without helmet or lights or a lock (they’re missing) back home – I have my bike back. At this time it’s about 11pm, about four and a half hours after first seeing the Facebook post.


I’ll write a separate aftermath post later as more details come out.

When I was at the station – the police asked me if instead of sending him formally through the court system – I was ok with an alternative community justice/mediation. I said yes – as I am of the belief that the formal criminal justice system isn’t particularly effective at rehabilitation – which also seemed to be the sentiment of the police.

But also – I do get a kind of jaded feeling with this experience- where it feels like the police aren’t that interested in comprehensively following up crimes. This is a post for another time.

The police didn’t catch up with the guy who remained in the car that night.

The guy was likely a guy who’d been kicked out of the accommodation,¬†a couple of weeks earlier for breaking a window.

I received an email today from the police saying that there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed with the case – but I’m wondering if that’s a form letter to do with the initial theft report – and not arrest that was made – we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.


Lessons Learned

  • It is possible to get your items back if you act quickly. This guy clearly wanted to make a quick sale – and had I dawdled about it – a sale would have been made to someone else the item would have been gone.
  • In New Zealand you can contact *555 to reach a police operator – even for non-traffic items.
  • Even without police support – it would have been possible to get the item back. In this case I could have just ridden off with it and I doubt they could have or would have done anything about it. It’s up to you to assess whether that would be a safe option.
  • Don’t delete your emails. A week early, as part of ‘being organised’ I emptied my inbox – sent a lot of emails to the trash – including the Trade Me and bike servicing receipts. Luckily the trash hadn’t been cleared – and the emails were recoverable – because they served to be important in proving that the bike was mine.