How to Avoid Buying a Stolen Laptop

By: Absolute Team | 7/9/2014

Aside from the perhaps obvious suggestion not to buy a laptop from someone selling it on the street, how do you go about buying a second hand laptop that isn’t stolen? The last thing you want is to have the police knocking on your door to get back a stolen laptop, which leaves you with no laptop, lost cash and possibly being investigated for Possession of Stolen Property.

There are ways you can protect your purchase, if you follow these tips.

What to Ask When Buying a Used Laptop

You’ll want to run through some basic questions with the seller, to determine if you want to proceed with the purchase.

  • Where did they buy the laptop?
  • Why are they selling it?
  • Do they have the original receipt? The manual or any discs that came with it?
  • Are they willing to write a receipt for purchase?
  • Are they willing to provide the serial number so you can check with law enforcement to see if the laptop is stolen?
  • Can you test the device prior to sale?
  • Are there original files on the device, potentially with photos or information that does not match the seller?
  • The seller is unable to easily answer questions on the specifics of the computer: what Operating System is loaded on the computer, the amount of RAM, list of programs installed, etc…

If you aren’t happy with the answers from the seller, don’t proceed.

How to Know a Laptop May Be Stolen

People attempting to sell stolen laptops often sell them at bargain prices or try to sell you a bundle of goods. If you think the deal is too good to be true, step back and consider it may be stolen. These are all ‘red flags’ that should make you reconsider your purchase.

  • The price seems low compared to others on the market
  • The seller is drops the price significantly during negotiations
  • You found the seller on the street or conducting sales from their car
  • The seller is obviously in possession of multiple laptops or mobile phones
  • The seller appears nervous or rushed
  • The seller is unable to answer questions on the specifics of the laptop
  • The seller will only conduct the deal with cash
  • The seller attempts to close the deal with a “hard luck” story
  • The device has obvious damage on the outside, particularly at areas where locks or company logos may have been present, or the serial numbers are damaged

Protect your personal information

Where to Buy a Used Laptop

When buying a computer second-hand, it is always safest to use a reputable dealer with a well-established location, or a “refurbished” computer from the manufacturer. Pawn shops are required to maintain records on items, and check them against law enforcement databases, but they are not always a sure thing.

If you are buying the laptop online, you have fewer ways to verify the laptop isn’t stolen or to interact with the seller. You may be fed misleading information or may pay for a laptop that never arrives. We suggest you buy only on sites that offer buyer protections. Online classified sites are higher risk for purchases, so be sure to run through the precautions above before purchase.

No matter what buying option you pursue, ensure you keep all communication with the seller, get a written proof of purchase, and only pay using a credit card.

If you are purchasing a used smartphone, we also have tips on how to avoid buying a stolen phone.

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