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'These Thieves Are Operating Completely Out In The Open': CBS News Colorado Looks Into Where Denver's Stolen Bikes Are Going

(CBS4) - When a grown man stole 12-year-old Colin Delormo's bike from Delormo's Park Hill garage in 2021, the pre-teen became another unfortunate statistic. His bike was one of 3,740 bikes reported stolen to the Denver Police Department last year.

"It's kind of disappointing. Now I can't bike around the neighborhood or to school, " said Colin.

The mid-morning theft was caught on the Delormo family's surveillance cameras, which showed an adult male wearing a backpack walk into the garage and grab the bike.

bike being stolen
(credit: CBS)

"I had it for two full years," said Colin.

Although the family offered a reward, they never saw the bike again. According to Denver Police statistics, 3,740 bikes were reported stolen in 2021 and only 119  were recovered. The numbers are even bleaker for this year, through May 3rd, only 20 bikes or 3.3% of bikes reported stolen in Denver had been recovered.

Some bike enthusiasts have had enough and have been fighting back.

In Fort Collins, cycling activist Dan Porter, who runs a cycling-oriented website, has now 'repossessed' two stolen bikes in the last two years. The first was when a full suspension Pivot mountain bike was spotted in Loveland. The $8,000 dollar bike was leaning against a camper. Porter grabbed the bike and rode away.

"Admittedly, it was a crazy thing to do," said Porter.

But he said it was worthwhile when he was able to track down the rightful owner and return the bike.

The second time, Porter spotted a stolen bike in Fort Collins.

"I just decided to grab it and take off with it," he said.

In that case, he was again able to return the bike back to a restaurant server who relied on it for transportation.

"It felt good to get that back to him," said Porter.

In both cases, he bypassed contacting the police believing they didn't have the time or manpower to track down the original owners and return the bikes.

"I've gotten lucky twice, I'm not looking to do it again," said Porter.

In the Denver metro area, CBS4 found another woman, who says she has tracked down 13 stolen bikes that were for sale and returned them to their rightful owners.

"The nice high-end bikes have become the 'scumbag currency' of town," she said.

She said she found the stolen bikes for sale on Facebook Marketplace and Offerup.  Through various means, she was able to determine the bikes were stolen. She would then use an alias and set up a 'sting' on the sellers who were peddling stolen goods.

"At least if someone has their property back, I feel half of justice has been served," she told CBS4.

She too said police no longer have the resources to methodically connect the dots on stolen bikes and do the legwork to get them back to their owners.

Bryan Hance, who works for the website, which tries to prevent bike theft and help recover stolen bikes, said online marketplaces have created a monster and they can't control it.

"You're not just getting robbed anymore, you're getting robbed and watching this guy sell your stuff online," said Hance.

Hance said he and his network find stolen bikes every day on Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp.

"We find bikes all day long. It's after you find them what do you do? That is the vexing part," said Hance.

Hance is especially critical of OfferUp which he contends is essentially designed for crime.

"It affords a lot of anonymity. Their security controls are weak, there's little verification," he said.

RELATED: Stolen tandem bike found, Denver owner says 'It was like Christmas'

He goes on to say it is hard to leave negative reviews on the site and they "don't enforce problems on their platform."

"Stolen merchandise or property is prohibited on OfferUp and we actively remove both stolen items and the users who post them," said Keith Carpenter, the Director of Public Relations for OfferUp.

"We have a team of investigators who look for bad items and users on the platform and remove them and who work with law enforcement to provide information and collaboration to resolve criminal activity. Crime on OfferUp is rare, but we have millions of people who use the app every month, so we continue to invest in tools to help our users have a successful experience," said Carpenter.

Carpenter would not reveal specific numbers on how many ads for stolen bikes are found and removed saying that was not public information.

A spokesperson for Facebook Marketplace declined to share specific numbers of stolen bike listings removed or reported.

"We prohibit the sale of stolen goods on our platform, which violates our Commerce Policies. We encourage people to report suspicious listings to us.. and to contact their local law enforcement to report the sale of any goods that they believe were stolen," they said.

Reacting to the surge in bike thefts, the Los Angeles City Council recently voted to ask the city attorney to draft a law prohibiting bikes from being repaired or sold on city streets or sidewalks. The move is seen as a way to crack down on the large collections of bikes that are found in homeless encampments. Supporters of the measure say bicycle 'chop shops', filled with stolen bikes, have proliferated in homeless camps on sidewalks and right-of-ways.

A similar measure is already law in Long Beach, California.

Bike sales spiked upwards during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hance says there was a bike shortage which was exacerbated by supply chain issues, driving up the price of used bikes and the need for a place to sell them.

As for Colin Delormo, while he never recovered his stolen bike, his parents did replace it so he could again ride to school and around his neighborhood.

How can you protect yourself from having your bike stolen and what should you do if it happens? CBS4 spoke to numerous experts in the field and compiled a list of ways to protect yourself:

  • Register your bike with your local police department and with
  • Register your bike or try to find it if its stolen at
  • Search for your stolen or abandoned bikes.
  • Make sure you have the serial number, a good description of the bike, pictures and take a picture of yourself with the bike in case it is stolen.
  • Take a picture of your serial number.
  • If you store bikes in your garage, lock them to something. "Harden your garage," says Bryan Hance.  Use a U lock or another heavy duty lock. Thieves can easily defeat cable locks. And they are also using power tools to defeat U- locks. "Make yours the hardest target, make yours the one they have to spend the most time on," said Hance.
  • If you are out riding but take a break, keep your bike within sight. Always lock it. Experts say cable locks can be easily cut and U-locks are preferable although thieves now use power tools to cut off U- locks. 'Thieves have stepped up their game with power tools', said Hance.
  • If your bike is stolen, file a police report. Scour the online marketplaces. If you find it, report it to police and to the online marketplace.
  • Look for stolen bike groups on Facebook and post there- they might be able to help your recovery efforts. The Denver Stolen Bike group on Facebook can be a resource.
  • Here's what to do if you locate your bike being sold online.
  • Here are some red flags to watch out for to protect yourself from buying a stolen bike:
    • If the seller won't provide a serial number.
    • If the seller doesn't match their bike i.e. it would not fit them or if they seem to not know much about the bike.
    • If it is being sold online along with other items that you might find in a garage like power tools etc.
    • If the seller does not want to meet in a safe, public place.
    • Look for marks on the bike that might indicate a lock was pried off the bike frame
    • Here are some other ideas on how not to buy a stolen bike.

Here is the full statement from Facebook Marketplace in response to an inquiry from CBS4:

  • We don't share the specific number of listings removed or reported on Marketplace, but we do have broader transparency reports from Meta in our transparency center (see here for the fake account removals for example).

  • We prohibit the sale of stolen goods on our platform, which violates our Commerce Policies.

  • If people see an item that they think was stolen on, we recommend to:
    • Report the listing to us (see here).
    • Contact your local law enforcement to file a police report.
  • We require products and services offered for sale to comply with our Commerce Policies. Like all content on Facebook or Instagram, we require listings to comply with our Community Standards. In many cases, our Commerce Policies may be stricter than our Advertising Policies and our Community Standards.
  • We enforce our commerce policies (including reviewing complaints and reports against sellers and reports of stolen goods) through our commerce review system. While this review is largely automated, we rely on our teams to build and train these systems, and in some cases, to manually review listings.
  • We encourage people to report suspicious listings to us via our on-platform tools and to contact their local law enforcement to report the sale of any goods that they believe were stolen.

  • We provide robust resources for people on how to shop safely on Facebook including educational modules and tips.

Here is the full statement from OfferUp in response to an inquiry from CBS4:

On the proactive side, we have a team of investigators who look for bad items and users on the platform and remove them - and who work with law enforcement to provide information and collaboration to resolve criminal activity. We also have a dedicated team of trust and safety analysts who use data to identify patterns of bad activity and to automatically flag suspicious postings. 

On the reactive side, we partner with law enforcement and our community of users to aid in identifying prohibited postings. OfferUp has a strong and dedicated community that helps us by reporting prohibited items by using our reporting tool. All item posts have an option to "report" something that is prohibited. As soon as an item is reported in the app, it is investigated by our Investigations Team and considered for removal. In addition, if law enforcement contacts us and shares details about stolen items, we remove them from the marketplace and work with them to locate the sellers. Once stolen items have been reported to local authorities, we encourage the investigative officer to contact OfferUp and provide us with the following case details 1) Agency case number or event ID, 2) Investigative officer name, 3) Investigative officer phone number or email address. We also have established relationships with the loss prevention departments of multiple large retailers and have worked with them on dozens of theft investigations - both employee theft and organized retail crime.    

Lastly, we have teamed up with LeadsOnline, the nation's largest online investigation system that provides access to locate stolen property that may have been bought or sold on OfferUp. That said, only Law Enforcement officials with a warrant or subpoena can request information from OfferUp.

We care deeply about the safety of our community and trust is at the core of our brand and mission. Crime on OfferUp is rare, but we have millions of people that use the app every month, so we continue to invest in tools to help our users have a successful experience including:

  • TruYou Program + Reputation - when we first started, we created TruYou, which is a two-step process. You scan your license and take a selfie, which adds a badge to your profile and tells people you've taken the extra step to identify yourself 

  • We include a rating option at the end of each transaction

  • We have established nearly 2,000 Community MeetUp Spots at retail stores and police departments across the nation

  • We have a dedicated investigations team that assists law enforcement and we've also got A.I. built into the app that helps us identify bad activity and items that don't fit within our marketplace guidelines

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