By Elizabeth Hur
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Social media and police to the rescue!
The victim of a bike bandit found his stolen wheels through Facebook then recovered the bike with help from police.
We’ll call this: Operation “Philadelphia Stolen Bikes” – Ok, so it’s actually an online community on Facebook with more than 1,300 members and counting.
Ryan Fiel said, “It’s basically there’s more people out looking for it, if they see it, they’re willing to let you know. The group is around to try to help.”
Fiel is now a fan and the Philadelphia Police consider themselves: supporters.
“I think it’s great, it’s a great tool for us to help individuals to get their property back,” said an officer, who we are not identifying because they do undercover work for the Department’s 3rd district.
The officer and his partner made two arrests in the last two weeks for bike thefts in South Philadelphia, including the thief who stole Fiel’s custom-made road bike.
“They’ll come to the district and they’ll inform us. Obviously they reported their bikes stolen and they found it on Craigslist,” the officer explained.
That’s right, from pictures to even rewards, victims post as much information about their stolen bikes on this site. Members then scour online ads on eBay and Craigslist and when a match is found, members contact the victims. Fiel found his on Craigslist.
Fiel recalled, “It’s kind of an odd feeling, at one point, it’s defeating because it might end up with somebody else. But then it gives you hope you might get it back.”
To get his bike back, he posed as a buyer and together with the police, arranged to meet the “seller” in a public place and successfully recovered the bike worth about $2,500.
“I agreed to pay $300,” Fiel said.
The officer added, “We are in the area and when the individual identifies the bike as theirs, we move in and make the arrest.”
Police said a second local resident was able to find her stolen bike using the same method this week.
According to police, the female victim reported her Cannondale Road bike stolen in December of 2012 and then began searching stores and websites to see if her bike was being sold online.
Officials say, after the victim checked Craigslist and eBay, she joined the Facebook group Philadelphia Stolen Bikes where she posted a picture and description of her bike.
On Monday, authorities say she saw a post on the group saying there was a Craigslist ad for a bike that looked like hers. The victim followed the link and set up a meeting with the seller and called police to inform them of the situation. Police say plainclothes officers sat nearby as the victim met with the seller and, once the seller brought the bike out, officers began questioning the suspect.
Officials confirm that the bike brought out by the seller was in fact the victim’s bike, with matching serial numbers and description.
Police say the suspect was arrested and the bike was returned to its owner.
Police are encouraging all bike owners to take photos of the bicycles and keep a record of the serial numbers. They say bicycles can be registers with your police districts community relations/crime prevention officers.