Protecting Your Camera Gear Against Theft

Protecting your gear against theft is important. I know that you know that, but how can you be more protected against theft? Home insurance is probably covering the gear unless you use it professionally and even then there may be problems in valuation and overall coverage. It’s best to check from your insurance company what exactly the insurance you have will cover and how is the value calculated in case of theft, accident, fire or natural events. In my case the insurance company is covering all photographic gear against theft, accidents etc. and the value for vintage gear is estimated from current 2nd hand prices. The new cameras and lenses are valuated using a formula that lowers the value every year by certain percentage, which is in my case was about the same rate as in real life. Not having an insurance for your gear is playing Russian roulette. The insurance doesn’t cost that much at least here and it covers theft, accidents and events like fire.

But how about gear that is unique, or gear that you really would like to get back instead of buying a replacement the condition of which may not be the same as yours was? Making a list of your gear and their serial numbers is helping a lot in case of theft, because in case the thief is selling the gear, the serial number is something one can’t hide and one does, it automatically means the source of the gear being sold is questionable. I have once bought a cheap lens via Ebay from a real store and months later when making a list of my gear noticed that the serial number is melted away somehow. I contacted the store and they were surprised and guaranteed that they will check their incoming gear more thoroughly for cases like this. I will not buy stolen gear and feel sorry for the previous owner of this particular lens. But there is nothing I can do, because I don’t know the previous owner. I hate thiefs and theft like plague and am angry for the fact that for example in Finland you don’t really get any real sentence for theft, unless you steal from the government.

You can make a list of your gear in text file using Notepad/TextEdit, or in Excel if you are more advanced. But I have even better way of making sure you have your gear list saved and serial numbers registered. There is a free website named Lenstag to which you can enter your cameras and lenses along their serial numbers. The real kicker in the website is that you have to verify your gear by sending a photograph of each of the serial numbers on your gear. So the list is not only a good one, it’s verified that you really owned the gear you have listed. Here’s a copy of the Frequently Asked Questions on Lenstag:

What is Lenstag?

Lenstag is a project with three main goals:

  • Prevent the resale of stolen cameras, lenses & video equipment.
  • Significantly reduce the risk of theft.
  • Maintain the privacy of users and allow pseudonymous ownership.

How much does it cost?
It’s free.

How does it work?

Lenstag works like this:

  • Sign up & add your cameras, lenses & video equipment to your account. It’s totally free.
  • Verify that you’re in possession of each item by uploading a picture from your phone or computer of each item’s serial number or something else that shows you own each item (warranty card, etc.).
  • If an item gets stolen, immediately flag it as such and we’ll create a public page to help you get it back.

Bonus feature: if you sell or give an item to someone else, you can transfer the record to them using Lenstag and save the next person from having to re-verify.

Why should I register my gear before it gets stolen?

The first few hours after a theft are absolutely critical to getting the word out & preventing resale of the stolen gear. If your gear is already registered, then you just have to sign in & flag the items as stolen (and optionally provide additional information).

If you wait until after your gear is stolen, you’ll have to add the gear, verify it with something else other than a picture of the serial number and wait a day or two for someone at Lenstag to approve the verification request. By then the gear has probably been pawned or sold and the chances of successful recovery are substantially lower.

How can I tell if a camera or lens is stolen?

Do a web search for ‘stolen’, the serial number of the item and ‘lenstag’ for good measure. If the item’s page shows up, there’s a good chance it’s stolen. If you know something about the item (location, craigslist post, etc.) please type it into the box and leave your email address (optional) so we can follow up.

Also, here’s a list of all the gear flagged as stolen on Lenstag. Please let us know if you come across any item on here.

I have listed all my gear on Lenstag, verified them and delivered the printed list to my insurance company. I don’t know a better way to make it easier to catch the thief than this, because most probably the gear is being sold on Ebay or your local similar service on Internet (in Finland there are two similar services). If you see your kind of gear being sold, ask the serial number in case it is not shown on the pictures. If the seller refuses to give the serial number, it’s an alarming thing. If the seller has multiple gear for sale all of which you had and the seller refuses to give serial numbers, I’d contact the police with the verified list from Lenstag and the sellers listings.

Using Lenstag is easy. First you add your gear one by one:

add-serial-number

After that the gear is added to your gear list, but it is in unverified state, meaning that you haven’t verified your ownership yet.

new-entry

Clicking the Verify button opens a new dialog to which you can upload a photograph of the serial number:

verification-dialog

After uploading the picture of the serial number it takes a day or two for your gear to change status to verified.

That’s all it takes to make a good list of your gear and have it being verified by 3rd party. The only thing I miss from the service is the ability to see the pictures of the serial numbers you sent later. As of now, unless you save the images yourself, you don’t get to see the real photographs, only the fact that the site has verified your ownership of the gear. But to me that is good enough and having a list of serial numbers makes selling the stolen gear more difficult, which is a great thing.

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