Earlier this year we saw the launch of two search engines — Stolen Camera Finder and GadgetTrak Serial Search — that help find stolen cameras by searching photos on the web for the serial numbers. The idea is neat, but no one knew whether it would actually help recover stolen gear or not. Turns out it does work.
Photographer John Heller was shooting an assignment in Hollywood when a thief stole his Nikon D3 and lenses — gear that had a combined value of $9,000. He then decided to do a reverse serial number search using GadgetTrak Serial Search, and found several recently taken photographs on Flickr that had the same serial.
With the help of the Los Angeles Police Department, he was able to track the photographs back to a Facebook profile of a man who had unwittingly purchased the stolen camera. Heller was able to recover all his stolen gear, and the LAPD is currently investigating the individual who originally sold the gear (the new owner had a receipt from the purchase).
Supposedly the LAPD is now recommending the tool to detectives and officers who deal with stolen camera cases.