Described in detail on PetaPixel earlier this week, San Francisco-based photographer Jeff Hu organized an elaborate online sting operation in order to acquire his stolen Canon EOS Rebel T2i back from a thief. According to Hu, the dSLR camera was stolen from his household during a house party on St. Patrick’s day weekend along with a Tamron 17-50mm lens attached to the camera body. After Hu filed a police report, he attempted to reach friends that were at the party to see if they recalled anyone that may have taken the expensive camera. However, none of the party guest knew anything about the stolen Canon camera.

While at work the following Monday, Hu decides to check Craigslist listings for the camera hoping that the thief would be looking to dump the camera quickly. As luck would have it, the thief had posted an ad for the camera on Craigslist the day after the dSLR was stolen from Hu’s home.

Hu was able to identify the camera immediately due to a recognizable scratch on the door that covers the SD card slot. The ad also listed the camera without any basic accessories like the battery charger or lens cap. 

At this point, Hu quickly created a fake email address and started a conversation with the thief about the condition of the dSLR as well as other questions typically asked by a Craigslist buyer. When responding to the questions, the thief used his real name. Using Facebook as an investigative tool, Hu was able to pull up a picture of the thief and he recognized the thief as one of the guests at the house party. As a strategic measure, Hu asked his friends to email the thief as interested buyers in order to have backup fake buyers as needed. 

After discussing the situation with a police dispatcher, Hu setup a meeting with the thief at a coffee shop approximately half a block from a nearby police station.

Hu started gathering up all documentation related to communication with the thief, a printout of the thief’s Facebook picture and proof of ownership. He was also able to use StolenCameraFinder.com to extract the serial number of his Canon Rebel T2i from the EXIF data of pictures taken using the dSLR. 

Hu called his friends to help him with the sting at the coffee shop, but was relieved to discover the police department sent out two undercover police officers to help him recover his camera. While watching the coffee shop from an undercover police car across the street, Hu communicated with the thief over text messages in order to get a description of his clothing for identification. As the thief walked into the coffee shop, police officers moved into position behind the man and started questioning him. After discovering the stolen Canon camera in the thief’s backpack as well as an Airsoft gun, the police placed him under arrest.

Back at the station, police soon discovered the thief had lied about his identity and found a warrant out for his arrest. Hu was able to obtain the stolen camera back easily with the serial number identification information. Describing his feelings about the outcome of the situation, Hu stated “My friends and I felt like heroes of a police department in some CSI show, and I was even a little disappointed I didn’t get a junior detectives badge. However, when it comes down to it, I was just glad to have my camera back.” Hu’s photo collection using the T2i can be found on Flickr here.