Pssst! Wanna buy cheap stolen goods? From bikes to a bit of bling, it's possible to grab goods at a fraction of the normal cost. Not many people know about this trick, so you could nab some real bargains.
We've now updated this guide with even more ways to get your hands on stolen goods. And it's all completely legit and above board - in fact, even the police are in on it...
How to buy cheap stolen goods (and it's absolutely legal)
Don't worry, we know MoneySavers are perfectly law-abiding citizens, and we're not about to encourage you to break the law. This is all about snapping up lost property or goods seized from criminals when the police can't find the rightful owners.
Many police forces across the UK sell on loot which they've seized. And because this isn't widely known about - and because the police are selling on items they'd otherwise have to store or dispose of - it can be possible to bag real bargains. For example, we spotted a kids' bike for 99p (collection only), a classical guitar for £14 (incl delivery) and an Armani watch for £15 (collection only).
There are three main routes the police use to flog this stuff - it's worth checking out all three, but the route for you may depend on what's available near where you live, as many items have to be collected from the police stations flogging them.
- Bumblebee Auctions - an eBay-style site which features stolen goods listed by police forces across England and Wales. You usually have to collect items in person.
- Official police eBay stores - some forces have now set up their own eBay shops. You can either collect items in person or in some cases have them delivered.
- Local auction houses - some police forces also sell goods via local auction houses, which you have to attend in person.
Police auction Q&As
How big is this?
The number of items available can be fairly limited, as it depends on the amount of stolen goods each police force has recovered at any one time.
Bumblebee Auctions usually only has about 100 to 200 lots up for auction at once. Official eBay stores vary - when we checked, Leicestershire Police only had three items on offer, though there were a whopping 158 listed in the official Sussex Police shop.
Is it always a bargain?
What if I spot something that belongs to me?
Police forces say they make every effort to trace the rightful owner of the property before they sell it.
If you spot something that's yours on Bumblebee Auctions, email email@example.com and hopefully they'll reunite you with your property. If in the very rare case you spot your property after it has been paid for and collected by the buyer, the police force will contact the buyer and attempt to negotiate its return.
If you spot something that belongs to you on eBay or in your local auction house, you'll need to get in touch with the police force selling it.
Where do the proceeds go?
Each force uses the money it raises differently, but generally it goes into policing initiatives or to a charity fund to help worthy local causes.
I've got the auction bug. Any others worth checking out?
Ever watched Storage Hunters, the US TV show where people bid for the mystery contents of storage units? Well, you can do something similar yourself with lost luggage auctions. When airlines are unable to reunite lost bags with their rightful owners, they often sell them off via specialist auction houses.
You don’t always know what's inside the cases, but pick a winner and profits are possible from eBaying them on.
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Many police forces in England and Wales use an eBay-style site called Bumblebee Auctions to sell lost property or goods which have been seized from criminals.
Unsurprisingly, the most common categories are things that are most likely to be nicked – when we last checked, we found bicycles, cameras, jewellery, tools and games consoles.
Crucially, you'll often need to collect whatever you buy in person, so it's important to factor in which force is selling an item before you bid. You can occasionally pay for delivery though.
How to get started
To sign up, you must first set up an account for the online payment system Nochex, which can take up to three days. When you register a card, Nochex takes a random £3 or less non-refundable admin charge from the card to check it's yours.
This is in effect a joining fee, so make sure you know there is something you want to buy and it is worthwhile before you sign up. After that, you can register to bid on Bumblebee – you need to use the same email address for both.
Does bidding work just like on eBay?
Not quite. On eBay, you can sneakily win auctions by swooping in seconds before the deadline. Bumblebee works differently. If someone bids in the last 10 minutes, it automatically extends the auction by 10 minutes, giving others a chance to fight back.
Occasionally, auctions get cancelled when the rightful owner spots their property and claims it back. Of course, you'll get your cash back if you've already paid. If you've tried the site, please feed back on the Police auctions forum thread.
Do I have to collect the items in person?
The big downside to Bumblebee Auctions is most items must be collected in person from whichever police station's flogging it.
This may limit your choice as not every force is on the site – police in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland aren't there, for example. But if there's a delivery option, you can get items sent anywhere in the UK for an extra fee, typically £5 to £8.
What happens if there's a problem?
While MoneySavingExpert has featured Bumblebee Auctions for years, there's been mixed feedback in our forum.
If you buy an item and it isn't as described in the listing, you have the right to return it and get your money back. Bumblebee says if you have any issues with the condition of your item, or you haven't received it within 28 working days, you should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
See the Consumer Rights guide for full details of your rights when things go wrong.
Have you bought cheap stolen goods from the police? Let us know how you got on - plus any police eBay stores or local auction houses you've spotted which do this - in the forum.
Some police forces have set up their own official eBay shops to sell recovered goods. What's more, smaller items often have a delivery option, so you can still buy from them even if the force is based miles from you.
To find an official store, start by checking the website of your local police force to see if they sell stolen goods on eBay. If not, look further afield, though make sure what you're buying has a delivery option or you're able to collect it.
We found a number of police forces linking to official eBay shops, including Cheshire Police*, Nottinghamshire Police*, Leicestershire Police*, Sussex Police*, Thames Valley Police* and Devon & Cornwall Police*.
When we looked, most smaller items (eg, cameras and jewellery) had a delivery option. Larger items such as bikes and televisions were collection-only - often from the police force's headquarters.
Are all items sold via auction?
When we checked, most items were being sold via auction. However a few had the 'Buy it now' option, so it varies.
What's the best way to get a good deal?
For full help on how to nab the best 'bay bargain, including sniping tools to help you sneakily win auctions at the last second, see our eBay Buying guide.
A number of forces use local auction houses (which you can visit in person) to sell goods.
You may have to do a bit of detective work to find an auction near you - some police forces give this information on their websites, but not all do. However, if you search online for police auctions in your area (eg, 'police auction Manchester'), you should be able to find if there's an auction house that sells goods on behalf of the police.
For example, Greater Manchester Police lists three local auction houses on its website - Central Auction Rooms of Rochdale, Charles Taylors Auctioneers & Valuers and Simon Charles Auctioneer & Valuers. It says auctions are held when there are enough items to sell.
Northumbria Police says it uses Bolden Auction Galleries, while West Midlands Police uses Aston's Auctioneers & Valuers. In London, we found Frank G Bowen Ltd, an auction house which deals with police, bankruptcy and liquidation auction sales.
Most items sold are similar to those on Bumblebee and eBay, but you're also more likely to find larger items such as cars at local auction houses.
How do I bid at a local auction?
To bid, you need to go to an auction house on the day. You should be able to find out when the next police auction will be held by visiting the auction house's website.
You can often view items in person the day before an auction too - check online for details of viewings, or contact the auction house to ask.
Are there any extra fees?
It's important to understand that at local auction houses, your final cost will be more than the amount the item closes for when you bid.
There are two fees that may be applied.
- The buyer’s premium. This is typically 15-20% of the item’s price - you also pay VAT on this premium. So if you successfully bid £30 for an item, and the buyer's premium was 20% (plus VAT), the total payable would be £37.20.
- VAT on the hammer price: A few auction houses also add 20% VAT to items' hammer prices. This would push your price up to £43.20.