A woman looking for her car

We’ve all lost something of value to us at some point in our lives, and we know how horrible that feels. Whether it’s a valuable possession or an item with sentimental value, the thought that you might never see it again can be crushing.

That being said, all hope is not lost. While there’s never a guarantee that you’ll recover a lost or stolen item, there are things you can do to maximize your chances of getting it back. That’s what we’ll discuss in this post, so keep reading.

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First Things First: Stolen or Lost?

Before springing into action, the first thing you should do is to ascertain whether the missing item was stolen from you or simply misplaced. The circumstances around the loss make a huge difference in how you should respond. If you misplaced your keys, for instance, you may be able to find them by simply retracing your steps. If someone stole your keys, you should definitely get the police involved.

On this page, we’ll discuss how to best respond to either scenario.

Tip: Did someone break into your home? Here’s how to best respond after a home burglary.

Recovering a Misplaced Item

We’re all humans, and the occasional “brain fart” is part of the human experience. If you misplaced something and can’t find it, our best advice is to keep a calm composure and a clear mind. How exactly does that help?

Well, generally, retracing your steps is the best way to get back a misplaced item. You can’t do that if you panic, so sit down, take a deep breath, and think hard.

  • When did you last see it?
  • Where did you last use it?
  • Where do you normally put it?
  • Could you have placed it in an unusual spot, perhaps in the laundry piles?

Be methodical in your search. Start with the usual suspects – perhaps you put your phone in your purse instinctively and just forgot you put it there. If it still doesn’t turn up, start searching other places — under your bed covers, behind furniture, in between couch cushions, etc. It might even be a good idea to do a general cleanup. That way, you can check every nook and cranny of your house.

Pro Tip: Do you have indoor security cameras? Your recordings may be able to help you rewind your day and find your missing item.

Recovering an Item Misplaced Outdoors

Losing something inside your home is completely different from losing something outside. You have a wider search area, and there’s always the possibility of someone else taking the item after you misplaced it.

Our tips above still apply: You should retrace your steps methodically. Your first goal is to narrow down the search area, so start by determining where you most likely lost the item. From there, you’ll be able to know where to focus your search.

If retracing your steps turns up nothing, here are a few other things you can do.

  • Find CCTV footage: If you lost the item at an establishment, you can request CCTV footage from the management.
  • Enlist the help of the public: You can go the old school way, and put up missing item posters, or take it online by posting on social media.
  • Use tracing apps: If the missing item is a smartphone or laptop, you may be able to trace its location using tracing apps like Find My iPhone.1
  • Report the loss: According to legal experts, the ‘finders keepers’ principle doesn’t apply to misplaced belongings.2 If you report the loss, the police will know how to contact you if the finder does the right thing and surrenders the item. If the finder keeps it for themselves, you’ll have a legal basis to file a criminal charge.

Recovering a Stolen Possession

It’s a completely different story if the item you’re missing was stolen from you. Here, your first action should be to call 911 or local law enforcement (if the theft involved burglary, or the thief is still in the area). Do not – I repeat – do not try to reclaim stolen property on your own. Not only will you be putting yourself in danger, but you might also land yourself on the wrong side of the law.

One famous example is the controversial O.J. Simpson case (no, not that O.J. Simpson case). Back in 2007, Simpson and five other men broke into a Las Vegas hotel room to take memorabilia he claimed to be rightfully his. He was successful, but in the trial that followed, a jury found him guilty of robbery, conspiracy to commit crime, and assault, among other charges.3

Here, we see both sides of the coin. Simpson may or may not have legal claim to the items he stole, but he broke the law and got in trouble when he acted on his own. On the other hand, the party from whom he tried to reclaim his alleged possessions got the favorable side of the law. Simpson ended up in jail, and all but 16 of the artifacts he “reclaimed” were returned to the other party.

“So… Should I Just Sit Idly By?”

While you shouldn’t act on your own, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t act at all.

Like we said from the very beginning, there’s never a guarantee that you’ll get a stolen item back, even if you get the police involved. According to FBI data, law enforcement agencies recovered only about 12 percent of stolen property in 2021. Here are the numbers, if you’re interested:

Type of property Value stolen Value recovered
Miscellaneous (e.g. personal items like wallets and phones) $278,133,006,509 $39,389,100,383
Consumable goods $107,512,396,407 $9,008,496,388
Motor vehicles $81,915,768,320 $12,671,092,017
Currency, notes, etc. $79,903,239,026 $6,021,929,187
Clothing articles $74,387,359,163 $11,015,255,874
Household goods $39,146,764,037 $3,005,483,340
Office equipment $30,204,922,324 $3,016,057,150
Jewelry and precious metals $19,605,049,450 $2,017,048,203
TVs, radios, stereos, etc. $14,125,358,173 $3,005,583,498
Firearms $7,120,928,580 $10,327,928
Livestock $1,010,671,860 $845,180
Total $733,065,463,849 $89,161,219,148

FYI: You can find more crime statistics on our research pages. Here are some shocking home burglary numbers and home security statistics to get you started.

The silver lining is that the proverbial glass is not completely empty. Stolen items do get recovered. Now, what you have to do is to increase your chances by taking the right actions.

How to Recover Stolen Items

Here are our tips for getting stolen items back safely and more successfully. Keep in mind, though, that if you do find your property, do not try to act alone. Immediately report it to the police, and let them follow the legal reclaiming procedures.

  1. Write a detailed description of the stolen item: Describe the item as detailed and as uniquely as possible. Be specific. Once you’re done, submit it to the police. Here are some things to include in the description:
Appearance Color, shape, size and dimensions, etc.
Specs Brand, make and model, approximate value, etc.
Unique identifiers Serial number, IMEI code (for smartphones), etc.
Details to distinguish from similar items Dents or cracks, stains, marks, or stickers
Other physical evidence A recent photograph of the item, receipt for the item, etc.
  1. Visit pawnshops in your region: If the item is pawnable, the thief has likely exchanged it for cash already. Visit pawn shops in and around your city, but don’t tell them you’re looking for a stolen item; just pretend to be an interested buyer.
  2. Search online: The thief might also try to unload your property on online marketplaces like Craigslist, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or offerUp. Those are other places where you could look.
  3. Post online: If you’re part of a local Facebook group or online community, post a detailed description of the item and seek the community’s help in locating it. (It’s best to get advice from law enforcement before doing this, as it might get in the way of their investigation.)
  4. Check your online credit card charges: This applies if the item stolen was a credit card, wallet, or device that contains your payment information. If you see a charge that you didn’t make, that might help point to the thief’s location.
  5. Ask around: If someone broke into your home to steal something of yours, there’s a good chance that a neighbor saw the crime or security cameras in the neighborhood recorded it.
  6. Call your insurance company: This may not apply to all cases, but if the stolen item is replaceable, is covered by insurance, and doesn’t hold sentimental value to you, reclaiming it can also mean getting back its value, even if you don’t get the original item back.

Conclusion: How to Prevent Future Loss

Ultimately, it’s a game of chance. Some are successful in recovering their stolen items; others aren’t as lucky. We all have a few things that we value, and so the best course of action is to take measures to prevent losing them in the first place – or at the very least, to easily locate them if they go missing.

A few things may come in handy. For instance, installing a home security system can be instrumental in preventing burglaries, whereas GPS trackers or tracker apps can make it easier to locate keys, wallets, phones, and other easy-to-lose objects. Another thing that comes to mind are security cameras. They can function as crime deterrents, and at the same time, provide useful evidence that can help you track down a burglar or find a misplaced belonging.

Recovering a lost or stolen belonging is easier said than done, so it’s much better to take a proactive stance when it comes to protecting your valuables.