How Do I Get My Stolen or Lost Camera Back?

In a generation largely inspired and entertained by visual stimuli, it’s no surprise that cameras have become a common investment to many of us today. Some go as far as purchasing state-of-the-art equipment just to capture views, memories, and stories. Others live off of the power of cameras entirely. But what if your expensive, prized gadget is nowhere to be found or, worse, is stolen?

Losing an expensive camera can be the most stressful experience. Although the chances of getting your camera back are kind of slim, there are camera tracking websites that make finding a lost camera a bit easier. Not all hope is lost.


Finding Your Stolen or Lost Camera ASAP

Serial number tracking

As a camera owner, writing down the serial number of your camera is a huge lifesaver. Always grab a quick snap of a new camera’s serial number using your phone as soon as you purchase it. Not just cameras but any high-value item such as lenses, flashes, anything. If you can’t find the serial number, you may be able to find it on the box that the camera came in. The serial number is often stored within the image files your camera creates too. In the event that you lose your camera, you’ll have the information to input into serial number tracking websites.

All you have to do is search for the serial number online through GadgetTrak or Stolen Camera Finder. These websites find your camera by comparing your camera’s serial number with photos on popular sites like Instagram and Flickr. The site will search for photos online that have been taken with the same serial number. Some equipment manufacturers, such as Nikon, will allow you to enter the details of your equipment, including serial numbers, into their website.

Photo tracking


Use this method if you don’t have the original box that the camera came in with and don’t have the serial number. Upload an old photo to a camera tracking website to see if it’s now being used by someone else. Each photo taken with a digital camera has an EXIF data, which is similar to a serial number. Exchangeable image file format (EXIF) is a file format for storing metadata in an image or audio file. Every photo taken with your digital camera contains information of the image and the camera, such as the date and time taken, camera model, manufacturer, temperature, and more.

If the thief took pictures using the camera and posted them online, you can track the camera down and get it back. Sites like Stolen Camera Finder can even help find your phone by comparing the metadata on old photos with photos on the internet. What Stolen Camera Finder does is crawl through as much data as possible from images all over the internet that contains EXIF data, so when you report a lost camera, it will check your EXIF data based on the image you submitted and then try to match it with their collections. The bigger collection of data they have, the better the chance of you finding your lost camera.

CameraTrace is another site that will compare the serial number on your camera with new photos. Currently, the database of CameraTrace has more than 11 million cameras and still counting.

Craigslist or eBay

Finding stolen items on Craigslist or eBay is not new. Apparently, some thieves aren’t smart; they’ll immediately post your lost camera for sale in the same city after stealing it. Look up your lost camera’s make and model on these sites. It helps more if your camera is customized or has identifiable marks like scratches or stickers. Filter your searches to the area where you lost your camera. You’ll be surprised.

Read how this camera owner busted a thief by filing a police report after looking through Craigslist.


Stores like pawnshops report serial numbers in case people sell stolen items to them. You can also find pawnshops yourself in the area you lost your camera. Inquire if they have any cameras for sale and then try to find a camera that matches the model you lost. After getting a list of all the pawnshops that have your camera’s make and model, give them a visit and see if any of the cameras are yours. The author for this article, for example, got his camera back after the campus police found it in a nearby pawnshop via serial number.


However, some people caution camera owners not to say that they’re looking for a stolen camera because the store may not honestly answer your queries.

What to Do When You Find Out Where Your Lost Camera Is

Just like retrieving a stolen or lost laptop, never go out there and face the thief alone. It’s a bad idea. You have no idea whose house it ended up in. If the thief had the guts to steal expensive equipment, you don’t know what else they’re capable of.

Find out more about the thief if you can.

If you found your lost camera on Craigslist or eBay, try finding out the thief’s name with the help of friends inquiring about the item as a buyer. Look for pictures and gather evidences of their theft.

Secure your camera’s information and serial number.

Write down your camera’s manufacturer, model, and serial number so you’ll be ready to aid police officers with useful information during their investigation. You can include receipts of the camera and any other documents proving your ownership of the equipment.


File a police report.

Remember when and where you were when the camera was lost. Police districts have different procedures for filing a police report, depending on your location. Some departments have online tools that will allow you to file a claim online, while others require an officer to come to the site of the crime. Look up the phone number of the closest police department and give them a call.

Be Careful Next Time

Now that you know how difficult and risky it is to recover a lost camera, do not take its security lightly. Register your camera on its manufacturer’s website, put a distinguishing mark on your camera’s body, and consider slipping a GPS tracker into your camera bag.

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