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Gear Prudence: I got an awesome deal on a bike I bought from this guy online. It cost half of what other sellers wanted, but he said he needed to sell it fast because he was leaving the country. When I met up with him, he seemed pretty normal, but something about the situation felt off. He didn’t have any purchase receipts and couldn’t answer more than the most basic questions about the bike. I bought it anyway, but I can’t shake this nagging feeling that I just bought a stolen bike. Am I being paranoid? What should I do now? — Possibly Uncovered Rascally Larcenous Owner, I Need Ethical Direction
Dear PURLOINED: You are being paranoid, but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong. There are enough elements in your story to arouse suspicion—the too-low price, the lack of paperwork, his inability to answer your questions, and most importantly, your gut feeling that something was off. But there’s enough plausibility to his story that it’s impossible to render a clear ‘come on man’ solely on the basis of your recounting. When people are moving they unburden their possessions at steep discounts; receipts are easily lost; and lots of people who buy bikes know nothing about them. But GP doesn’t want to leave you hanging, so let’s talk about your options.
You could sell the bike. Mark it up to the market price and use your superior knowledge of the product to convince the next unwitting buyer that it’s definitely not stolen. Then use the profits to buy a better bike. You’ll recoup your money and won’t be in possession of a potentially stolen good. Of course, doing this would make you a craven, immoral piece of shit subject to the pendulum swing of karma for your willing duplicity, so don’t you fucking dare.
Instead, try to get back in touch with the seller. If you feel that guilty, see if he’ll take the bike back (he probably won’t, assuming he even bothers responding). Barring that, try to find out where he bought the bike. If it’s a local shop, bring it in and ask them to check out the serial number to verify his story. Also, go online. BikeIndex.org is a compendium of stolen and missing bikes that you can search. There are local social media groups about lost bikes. Additionally, you could bring the bike into a police station and ask them to search reported stolen bikes and the National Bike Registry. None of these approaches will guarantee closure, but at least you’ll have done enough to assuage your guilt, if not paranoia.
In spite of these efforts, you still might find your bike locked with a second u-lock one day. If the rightful owner presents himself, explain your story and accept your lumps. Be sanguine, but if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. —GP