Beware of Buying Stolen Lawn Mowers

On Friday, December 2, 2011, the Lewis County Chronicle reported the arrest of a 23-year-old Olympia man on charges of trafficking stolen property. The man attempted to sell a stolen lawn mower on the popular Web site Craigslist, where his listing attracted the attention of the mower’s owner.

As this case illustrates, there are plenty of stolen pieces of equipment for sale in person and on the Internet, and lawn mowers are unfortunately no exception. In fact, thieves target lawn mowers and similar equipment fairly frequently because they are often stored outdoors and are relatively valuable. During wintertime, when the lawn mower is not in use, the owner may not even notice that his valuable machine is missing for weeks.

Most thieves who steal lawn mowers try to resell them to make easy money. Here are five places where stolen items are often resold. 

Auction websites. Websites such as eBay Motors and Auction.com are dumping grounds for all sorts of items that people do not want. Since the website does not take great pains to verify that the seller actually owns the item in question, it is fairly easy to auction off a stolen lawn mower on one of these sites.

Craigslist. Much like the auction websites, Craigslist is a popular destination for thieves looking to offload stolen property. Just about anyone can create an account and list their items with little verification.

Pawn shops. Thieves who prefer to unload their stolen merchandise in person often sell lawn mowers at local pawn stores. While many pawn shops will obtain the seller’s identification and take steps to verify whether the item is, in fact, stolen, some stores are not so thorough.

Flea markets. In some ways, flea markets are the in-person equivalent of websites like Craigslist. Almost anyone can rent a table or set up a booth and sell items without the need for verification.

On the street. A final common place for thieves to resell stolen lawn mowers is on the street. Stolen machines may appear at a yard sale, at a street vendor’s booth or even in the back of a minivan.

Buying a stolen lawn mower at any of these locations is a risky proposition. Of course, there is always the possibility that the lawn mower’s actual owner will try to retrieve the item. Buyers who unknowingly purchase stolen property will not be prosecuted, but they will have to return the stolen machine to its original owner immediately. This can represent a significant waste of money.

Even if the buyer keeps his lawn mower, there are other risks associated with buying a stolen machine. The buyer has no knowledge of the machine’s history, including any potential maintenance problems. In most cases, stolen machines do not come with instruction manuals, which means a simple issue may go unresolved and ruin the mower. In summary, there is no way to be sure you are getting a quality mower in good working order.

Of course, not all lawn mowers that appear in the above places are stolen. If you want to take a chance and buy a lawn mower at a pawn shop, flea market, yard sale or online, here are some key things to look for.

Knowledge of the machine. Take some time to talk with the seller about the machine’s specifications and requirements before closing the deal. The real owner will most likely have at least some knowledge about his lawn mower. Do your own research on the model and make sure what the seller says is accurate. Even if the machine is not stolen, a clueless seller might mean that the machine has some overlooked maintenance issue.

Market value. Legitimate owners know what their lawn mowers are worth and price them accordingly. Thieves want to get rid of their stolen property as quickly as possible, so they often sell machines for far less than they are worth. Find out the market value of the machine, and be wary of anything priced well below it. Remember, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Documentation. Ask if the seller has the instruction manual and any paperwork associated with repair or maintenance. This is a good general policy, but it will also send up red flags if a thief attempts to sell the machine without the associated documents.

Still, there are plenty of issues associated with buying secondhand lawn mowers. The safest possible option is to purchase your machine from a registered dealer. Although a brand new lawn mower is much more expensive, you can be sure that it is in good working order and is not stolen. Buying from a registered dealer is the best way to avoid buying a stolen lawn mower.

Ralph Helm Inc is a proud dealer of eco-friendly outdoor power equipment from popular brands like Stihl and Toro. For more information and money saving coupons visit us online at www.ralphhelminc.com, call or visit us at any of our two convenient locations: Elgin, IL (815) 788-1616 and Crystal Lake, IL (847) 695-1616

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3 Responses to Beware of Buying Stolen Lawn Mowers

  1. Marve Adler says:

    great information ! I always look forward to your newsletter. Thank you

  2. greg R says:

    it make me wonder about the snowthrowers iv’e seen on craigslist for sale you wonder if they were also stolen property who knows ????

    • Shelly B says:

      I was just wondering the same thing. I have purchased small push mowers at garage sales and never thought of them as being stolen. How can I tell if it is stolen? Unlike cars with registrations, I can’t think of anyway to backtrack on a bicycle, lawn mower or other items. Taking chances I guess.

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