Stolen Gear: A Guide to Preparing for the Worst

I grabbed some dinner before a shoot and when I exited the the restaurant, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The back window of my partner’s SUV was broken. One look inside confirmed my worst fears, the gear bag was gone — two camera bodies, five lenses, tripod, batteries, and various accessories — stolen.

The next couple days proved to be a learning experience as I navigated police reports, insurance agents and dreams of recovering my gear. I became very aware of a side of the video business that we hope to never experience: coping with theft.

There’s really two sides to dealing with this worst case scenario: preemptive steps you can take to minimize loss and maximize recovery chances, and things you can do after-the-fact to try to recover stolen gear.

There’s really two sides to dealing with this worst case scenario: preemptive steps you can take to minimize loss and maximize recovery chances, and things you can do after-the-fact to try to recover stolen gear.

Keep Records

First and foremost, it is important to keep a physical inventory of your gear. You should hang onto receipts and record the serial numbers for every piece of kit you get. You can even go so far as taking photos of all your equipment once a year. Should you find yourself having to make insurance claims or fill out police reports, well kept records will make the process easier. 

Many manufacturers also allow you to register your gear with them. This can help document what you own in case of theft or damage and also helps you keep current with updates. It’s easy to do and worth looking into anytime you buy a new piece of equipment. 

Know Your Insurance

Insurance is often the first go-to for recouping losses. Make sure that you’re covered by checking with your agent. While homeowners insurance will usually cover camera equipment, they often only cover amateurs and hobbyists — not professionals. The insurance broker will determine what qualifies someone as a professional. 

Gear used for business purposes might not be covered under standard homeowner’s insurance, so it’s important to know exactly what is covered. For pros, you can get riders for your gear, or look into separate insurance. Most important, talk to your insurance agent about your specifics; no one wants to have a claim rejected on technicalities.

Rentals

If you rent gear, you should be aware of what kind of coverage you have for it. Rental houses often offer insurance for damage, but sometimes not for theft. That means if you’re renting a camera and it’s stolen, you could be financially liable.

If the rental company doesn’t offer enough coverage, check into your homeowner’s, renters, or business policies. Some cover equipment that you either own or are using, but again, it’s important to know the specifics of your policy.

LensTag

LensTag.com is a free service that lets you to register your camera and lenses to their online database. Once you report a piece of registered gear stolen, LensTag logs the equipment for any web searches. This can help if second-hand buyers do a search on potential purchases and is an increasingly powerful as LensTag builds relationships with law enforcement and the pawn industry. As a free service, there’s little reason not to register with them. 

What To Do If Your Gear Gets Stolen

Ok, planning is all well and good, but what are your options once your gear is gone?

You’re going to need to file a police report. Call the police. They’ll send someone to take a report, or if appropriate, point you towards resources for doing it online. In the police report you’ll detail the circumstances of the crime and record what was stolen. Be as thorough as possible in this report as it will later be used in making insurance claims and with any possible recovery of the stolen property. 

Next, you’ll contact your insurance agent and file a claim. Do this as soon as possible to minimize delays to getting back on your feet. 

To recover stolen gear, check with places that have a large second-hand market.  Contact nearby pawn brokers; they will often hold merchandise for a set period of time to see if anything is reported stolen. If there’s a local swap meet, check it out. Go talk to employees at local camera stores, even if they don't sell the kind of gear you had — you never know where a thief might think they can sell their stolen goods. Don’t forget to check online sites like Craigslist and Ebay.

Online resources such as StolenCameraFinder.com can help locate lost or stolen cameras by searching online for metadata hidden in uploaded images. These services are aimed at still photos, but for DSLR shooters, they could be useful.

While nothing is guaranteed to get your gear back to you, these steps can help offer as good of a chance as you’ll get for recovery.

Parting Advice

Video production is largely the art of coping with complications. Hopefully theft is an complication you won’t experience, but it’s a good idea to hope for the best while preparing for the worst.

Erik Fritts is a writer, videographer and photographer based in Sacramento, CA.  He has a degree in film production from CSU Sacramento and experience in television, film, and corporate video production.

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Erik Fritts
Erik Fritts is a writer and filmmaker who has produced media for CBS, The US Fish and Wildlife Service, Berkshire Hathaway, and more. He has a BA in Film from CSU Sacramento, and an MFA from USC School of Cinematic Arts,

2 COMMENTS

  1. Wow, that sucks! I hope you’re doing ok now! Had a similar experience a little over 4 years ago when my laptop and a harddrive were stolen from my partners vehicle as well.. No use in having tinted windows or hiding your stuff very carefully. Thieves have a device that can measure static electricity from laptop/phone/camera batteries, so they exactly know what car houses the best things!

    My laptop and harddrive were recovered due to the stupidity of the thieves and my luck that I didn’t put a password on my computer and let Dropbox sync the moment it connected to the internet! Unfortunately it was recovered 2 months after the theft, so my damage was already done. Couldn’t sue the guy who had my stuff because the police couldn’t prove he stole it. Now we’re 4 years later and I finally am doing well after 4 years of going through hell (had to catch up on my projects – had 7 projects on that disc! – had to hire many colleagues to help me through my normal gigs and my health also deteriorated during that period of time). These thieves don’t know what kind of damage they cause for a laptop and harddrive that will probably get them $250,- cash somewhere on a good day. That set turned out to be worth over $150k for me! $150k I’ll never get back because I had 50/50 chance in court according to lawyers I asked for advice. Couldn’t take that risk!

    Nowadays I’ll never leave my car out of my sight! I rather starve than get out at a gasstation where I can’t park right in front of the store! Also very aware of where my stuff is at all times and keep countless backups of my work on different locations.

    Just so sad that we live in a society where honest, hardworking people experience these situations. We also spend so much money on being proactive to prevent situations like this while, to be honest, they just have to get their paws off stuff that doesn’t belong to them! Unfortunately in the Netherlands the dishonest thief usually gets away with a slap on the wrist or just a small sentence, while I was sentenced to 4 years without parole for a crime they committed!! #notfair

  2. One strategy to consider:
    Buy a cheap Styrofoam cooler. Beat it up a bit so it looks old and used. Store your camera gear inside. Not likely to look like anything valuable that a thief would break into your car to get. This advice was given to me years ago by a pro photographer and I recommend following it.