Since then, we’ve learned that a second photographer has recovered stolen camera equipment using Lenstag. Gary Fraley is a Lenstag user and was alerted when photos taken with his stolen equipment were posted on 500px.com. Fraley contacted the police who recovered his camera, two lenses, a flash and battery grip and are now investigating the theft.
Lenstag is a free security service, created in response to rising photography gear theft. So far it seems to be working, so now seems like a good idea to start using it.
Recovering Stolen Technology
Recovering stolen technology has never been easier. So many devices, like smartphones and computers either come with built in GPS, or can use Wi-Fi to triangulate their position. Services like Apple’s Find My iPhone and Prey track where your gear is and, if it gets lost or stolen, help you to track it down.
Lenstag: The Camera Solution
Cameras are different. Even models that come with built-in GPS can only use it to add that information to photos, not to broadcast the camera’s position. What cameras do have is a serial number that gets embedded in every photo they take. In high-end cameras with interchangeable lenses, the lenses also embed their serial number. This means every photo can be traced back to the gear that took it.
When you set up Lenstag, you add your gear’s serial number to your account. If something gets stolen, you can alert Lenstag who will add it to their database of stolen gear.
Lenstag uses a browser extension to automatically check the images on every webpage for serial numbers. If one of them is in Lenstag’s database of stolen photography gear, the rightful owner gets notified. This is what happened with Gary Fraley; pictures taken with his camera were posted to 500px and when someone with the Lenstag browser extension installed viewed them he received an email with a link to where they were. He was able to use information from 500px to go to the police and get his gear recovered.
To use Lenstag you need to create an account and register your gear. You can use either the Lenstag website or the Lenstag app which is available for iOS and Android.
To add your gear, you enter each item’s make, model and serial number. To confirm you own it, you take a picture of the serial number which is compared with the one you entered by someone at Lenstag. Once it gets the okay, that piece of gear is assigned to you.
If your gear does get stolen, you can use the app or the website to report. Lenstag will add the serial number to their list of stolen gear.
If you want to sell your gear, you can use the Lenstag app to transfer gear to another Lenstag account. If the person buying your gear doesn’t have one, they’ll need to create one.
Protecting Yourself From Stolen Goods
Stolen goods are a tricky subject. Any time you buy used technology you run the risk that it was stolen; if it was, you have no rights to it and, if you keep it knowing it’s been stolen you’re committing a crime. We’ve written before about how to tell if something has been stolen. Most of the same advice applies to cameras.
You also have Lenstag. Any time you’re buying a used piece of camera equipment — unless the seller has a Lenstag account and is transferring the ownership to you — ask to see its serial number and compare it to Lenstag’s list of stolen gear. You can do it just by searching Google for the model and serial number. For example, searching “Canon 24–70 123456789”. If the first result is a Lenstag page telling you it’s been stolen, call the police! The best way to kill gear theft is to make it impossible for thieves to sell stolen gear.
Bonus: Stop Your Photos Being Stolen
There are a lot of myths about copyright. The simple fact is that many people think they are entitled to use any image they find on the Internet for whatever they want. A lot of photographers find themselves in the unfortunate situation of having their work appropriated without being paid or even given credit. Lenstag helps stop that.
Even if your camera hasn’t been stolen, Lenstag alerts you when someone using the browser extension views your pictures on the Internet. Any time I use a photo from DSLR on a Make Use Of article I get a notification from Lenstag telling me the URL. If someone steals your photos and posts them somewhere online, there’s a good chance Lenstag will find them and let you know.
Lenstag is an awesome service that helps make gear theft unprofitable for thieves. If you’re a photographer, do you use it? If not, why not?