When Steve Catron, owner of Backwater Outfitters (www.backwateroutfitters.com) in Cape Coral, Fla., walked into his store the morning of Dec. 30, his heart sunk. Two empty spaces on his boat rack out back told him two brand new boats, a Heritage Marquesa and a Heritage Redfish, had been pinched overnight. Close by, another rack was missing a Heritage tandem, and as he looked closer, he discovered thieves had made off with a total of eight boats.
"I contacted the police immediately, and gave them descriptions, serial numbers, makes, models -- but really held out little hope," Catron told us.
On Jan. 2, he received a call from his sales rep, David Sims of Action Watersports -- Sims was sure he had found Catron's boats, on eBay.
"I took a look and sure enough, the boats the seller was offering matched the specific makes, models and colors of the boats I had just lost -- I wasn't 100 percent sure, but it was way past coincidence," said Catron.
He notified the police and gave them the seller's eBay ID, as well as the item numbers for each boat.
In the meantime, Sims continued sleuthing and sent an email to the eBay sellers asking them if they were a store or an outfitter, and informing the thieves he was interested in all the kayaks -- especially if they also had paddles, vests and skirts too. In short order, the eBay seller sent Sims a phone number to call -- clearly, not the brightest move.
Catron passed that phone number on to the police who told him immediately it was a cell phone and to sit tight while they did a bit more investigation.
"Everything rested on my end while the police investigators set up a sting. Undercover agents bid and purchased two of the boats from eBay and when they met the thieves for the buy, they arrested them," said Catron.
The detectives contacted Catron shortly after he had closed his store for the night to inform him they had two of the boats in "custody," thought they knew where five more were, and were working on finding the last one.
"They asked me if I could meet them at a Circle K near a four-way stop with my boat trailerâ€¦I didn't hesitate," said Catron.
When he arrived, they loaded up the two boats and then with the perpetrators in custody (turned out to be two 17-year-olds with a 15-year-old helping), they drove to an empty field, in the woods, and after foraging about in the mud and muck, pulled out five more boats.
"We loaded those up and then drove back to Cape Coral where the last of my eight boats was discovered. My feeling of shock and anger turned into excitement and relief," said Catron.
"My next quest, and that started when I recovered my boats, is to fully pursue changing some of eBay's policies," said Catron. "eBay is very good at publicizing they do not condone stolen goods on their website, but they have to have much better measures in place to deter and then help ferret out thieves. I was one of the fortunate ones. Not everyone gets their items back."
Catron told us that as of the theft, he has also completely changed his security procedures to make it much more difficult for thieves to make off with store merchandise in the future.
SNEWSÂ® View: Catron is indeed lucky. During the investigation of a story on eBay that published this month in the GearTrends Winter Outdoor 2005 magazine, we heard time and again from retailers that they were seeing goods disappearing from their stores and appearing later on eBay and other auction sites. The Internet has just made the business of fencing stolen property easier and eBay has become a favorite and convenient destination or target -- depending on your perspective. No question that there are privacy issues eBay must adhere to, but in its current format, the eBay model of steadfastly protecting the identities of sellers and placing little if any controls on the posting and sale of items on its site makes eBay an ideal destination for thieves bent on quickly and profitably fencing stolen property. It is time for eBay to send a clear and very proactive message that using its site for fencing stolen merchandise will not be tolerated and will become much more difficult -- we doubt it will ever become impossible. Hiding behind a veil of privacy issues is no longer a satisfactory answer to questions raised about why eBay has not done more to date, especially for a site that waves the banner of trust and safety as vigorously as eBay does.