Using GadgetTrak to recover stolen Nikon equipment

A photographer was able to recover his stolen Nikon equipment worth $9000 with the help of GadgetTrak  - a website that searches for photos online that have a specific serial number embedded in the EXIF data. Read the whole story on their blog.

Via TechCrunch

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  • Rob

    This wouldn’t always help, as some people strip the exif data before posting any photo online.

    • Crooks are not that smart!! And the normal Joe that buys gear on Ebay isn’t that bright either, they don’t suspect the gear they just bought is hot…

      • That guy is such a nerd! Look at him! He looks like that guy Corky from that tv show Life Goes On! lol He deserves to have had his gear stolen just for having a large forehead and silly goofy eyes! Yes, I said it! Before anyone else did!

        • jk

          Trying to be funny, but really just being mean. I guess your hot though and pretty sure you can pick up chicks by telling them you hang out on camera websites?

        • R

          Corky had Down Syndrome and that’s why he looked that way…
          you’re such an ass.

    • DeepC

      This is useless. When I am searching the serial number of my nikon d7000, it brings up someone else’s d300s. That is more than confusing.

  • nikon nut

    so we just advised all the would be camera thieves out there to remove the exif before posting online.
    nice one .

    • MJr

      who ofcourse, read nikonrumors for the latest tips

      • Not Surprised

        You guys don’t really understand. This probably won’t recover from the theives (and by the way, thieves are not likely to be NikonRumors readers — since they don’t invest in their own gear!) — this will most likely recover from victims of stolen goods sales (third-hand victims). While some people buy gear “no questions asked” for “too good to be true prices” most people don’t really have a real reason to down the seller is the owner.

        These buyers will use the equipment and they will have no reason to strip exif data. Therefore, this method can help recover stolen goods. And the person who was the buyer might even be able to help point to the actual thief, assuming the thief wasn’t too bright in their emails/phone numbers, etc.

        • MJr

          We are aware mate, just being pedantic ^^,

    • The invisible man

      I always put my camera bag in the clothes dryer before leaving the house, it saved me once !

      • MJr

        Now that is dedication. But really ? seems like a lot of effort. I’d put better locks on all doors and windows, save the whole house at once.

    • Anthony

      Most sites strip EXIF, and Facebook eg. even re-encodes, so the odds would seem to be slim. Still, I guess, slim is better than none.

  • Ben Brickwall

    As a professional camera thief myself, Nikon Rumors is one of my go-to websites. I refresh it a few hundred times each day.

    • Not Surprised

      And here I thought the camera companies were the ones ripping us off. How much is that GPS dongle?? How much is that wire?!?! =D

    • nikonlover

      A discerning thief you are ;D!

  • flownlead

    I’m pretty sure that data is still imbedded in the actual code. removing the exif won’t help. But I’m not 100% on that one.

    • Dormant

      You’re 0%. It’s easy to create a copy of an image that can’t be traced, even if watermarking is used.

      This site will catch people who are unknowingly using stolen cameras, as they have no reason for fiddling the EXIF data. Them and thieves who are too stupid to know about EXIF.

      • flownlead

        Well I was just saying.. and now I remember what I used to read info from stripped photos by looking through my links. and it was

        I retried it again and stripped everything. exif, iptc, etc. And I was still about to get the serial number. The code is actually hardwired in the jpg.. At least with nikons which has secured algorithms. 😉

        I also know that this site as great as it is, has a lot of trolls who complain about when the new d700, d300.. etc upgrades will come out.. When those cameras (if in the right hands) can last many many more years before needing an upgrade.

        But then again .. You probably just learned about photography in the past year. And you’d be surprised how smart smart thieves can be. Think about it.. they were able to rob you of your possesions 😉

  • telecomm

    It’s also been noted in one of the reports that this is actually the first time that such a service has ever been successful in leading to the return of stolen goods. 😛

    • donald

      got to be a first time for everything , surely catching any thief is a good thing , or do you disagree ?

      • Disagree

        • flownlead

          I’m first to reply to your comment John 😀 +1 for me.

  • Andrew

    I’m just happy for the man who got his camera equipment back.

    • Rob

      I’m sad for the guy that bought the stolen camera and had it taken by the police to give back to the original owner.

      • Roeder

        I don’t feel sorry for anyone who ends up with stolen gear. You really take your chances on eBay and Craig’s List. It’s important to cover all your bases and ask for original receipts or other proof of ownership, and make sure you save all contact info and emails, etc. The person who ended up with the gear in the blog story was smart enough to get a receipt:

        “With the help of police, Heller was able to track the images to another professional photographer through Facebook, who had unknowingly purchased the stolen camera from an individual and even had the receipt to prove it.”

        That might help them work with the police to get the money back for what was purchased.

        If you are one of those types who doesn’t care if the goods are hot, then all I can say is camera karma is a bitch.

        • flownlead

          Agreed on that one. Most people who by second hand with out asking for proof of purchase know exactly what the are getting into. They just like to act dumb.

  • AnoNemo

    This is very interesting. I wonder what other places the camera serial number is written.

  • …just tried my cams out of curiosity, and it found a camera of the same brand, but different model. And it definitely wasn’t mine.

    • My serial number from my D7000 pulled up two Flikr shots from someone else’s D300 and none from my camera.

      • This is due to the way Nikon does their serial numbers, they go sequentially from the model so for example a D7000 with the serial number 12345 exists as well as a D300 with the serial number 12345.

        • MJr

          you’d think they be smart enough to use D7K12345

    • Molesworth

      Ditto. The site came up with a couple of d300 shots on Flikr. I have a d300s in my hand. Great idea, but needs work.

  • up $#!ts creek

    looks like most of your followers are on the east coast riding out the storm…. after all these hours no one has managed to turn this into a d800 forum

    • Iris Chrome

      you had to ruin it!

  • up $#!ts creek

    looks like everyone is on the east coast riding out the storm – all these hours have passed and no one has turned this into a d800 forum

  • Just A Thought

    Probably the most useful post of late by the Admin.

    This has another use for photogs. On the inet many people “borrow” photos and use them without permission – copyright means little to them, heck they will even apply their copyright notice with your pics. Others grab photos where they can and package and resell the pics adding licenses for web use etc. This is a great way to check if any of your photos are being used without your permission. They can crop out a watermark but will likely not bother with EXIF data beyond maybe editing creator data – leaving the serial number.

    Thank you admin for something beyond notes about a Light (cheap) Lunch with Nikon on a boat in Denmark. OK OK relax folks – the P7100 was also a must buy and use…

    • d


      You know has been around for several years longer, and is probably more efficient?

      And umm, if you’re trying to find out whether your image has been used then just use tineye or Google reverse image search. Trying to search by serial number is just absurd, and ineffective.

      • Just A Thought

        You’re right that , tineye and Google Image Search are other very good tools. They have been around longer and Google has deep pockets which will make the Google option even better.

        I disagree that searching for a serial number is “just absurd”. It may be ineffective at this time, but over time as their index grows that will change.

        One example is a library of stock photos. It is far easier to search for one single serial number than it is to send each of your pics to the other options.

        The more options that one has the better. As for stolen gear, it’s also a great idea to let the camera manufacturers know the model and serial numbers of the stolen gear.

        Too bad the government does not create a national stolen property database – filled out by the Police Depts, but available to everyone to view.

  • It began

    It helps you recover your stolen camera, so you can get back to processing your shots on your pirated version of photoshop. 😉

    • click click

      robin hooded, if you like

    • venancio

      adobe might even have a tracer imbedded on your processed output that indicates the software serial number of the photoshop used…

    • Just A Thought

      You bought a retail copy of Photoshop and registered it during/after the install. All is well. Then your Hard Disk crashes or a virus makes it unusable. You install a new hard drive just to be safe. Format and install an operating system and then reinstall Photoshop. You are informed that the copy you are reinstalling had been previously registered preventing you from using your purchased “legal” Photoshop…..

  • It’s all well and good to point fingers at people buying hot equipment, but how about pointing fingers to an online database that we could use to see if it is hot in the first place?

    • Roeder

      I think a more useful service is one where you can register your serial number, then report it if it’s stolen. Potential camera buyers can do a search for the serial number before they lay down the cash.

      Imagine some of those phone calls…

      Buyer: “Hi, I’m calling regarding the D3s you have on Craig’s List for $500.00…. Can you provide a serial number so I can check the camera’s history?”

      Seller: *click*

  • pulsating tissue

    so this system gets people their old gear back most likely after they’ve already made an insurance claim, cashed the check in on new gear and had their premiums go up — and now they have doubles of their gear. and the (most likely innocent) buyer of the stolen goods is out their money and the gear they bought. and the thief is deterred in no way.

    i’m going to give this product the golden belly button award.

    • When I filed a claim against my policy, they paid for my equipment, but there was some wording that if the equipment was recovered, it was the insurance company’s.

  • Hello there, my name is Ken Westin, I am the founder of GadgetTrak and developer of the tool used to find the camera, if you like I would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have here.

    • Thanks for stopping by Ken.

      • No problem, wanted to check out where all the web traffic was coming from 😉

    • Paul

      So I tried my serial number and I have many photos on my personal (public) Flickr (some have been there for years) but nothing comes up. How does your service selectively index photos?

      • Hi Paul,

        The indexing is done differently from site to site, it basically looks at all publicly available images and checks to see if the serial number is embedded in the EXIF tags of the image. So far we have all possible serial numbers from Flickr from 2006 to the present, we index all new images posted daily. We also have all possible images from 500px indexed, at least those with serial numbers that we can extract. Also not all cameras embed serial numbers, Sony for example does not embed this info in their cameras, we have a list of supported cameras on the site that is dynamically updated as it finds new models…we also pull the make/model from the EXIF data as well.

        • d

          All possible serial numbers?
          My serial numbers are in the photos I upload to flickr – I checked, and a search for my camera’s serial number returns no hits.

          • Ken Westin

            Not much I can do without more information.

            • MJr

              So why aren’t you asking for it ? Aren’t you curious to find out, for the sake of improving the sites effectiveness and all ?

            • If “d” can provide more information I would be happy to help him.

        • Abaham Collins

          Can you also start indexing “user comment” data?

          A camera’s serial number can be assigned more than once, but I doubt anyone else is embedding “COPYRIGHT JOSEPH ABRAHAM COLLINS” as a photograph’s user comment.

  • I suppose there is a way to clear the information out of the firmware via a reset or something like that.

    • Some cameras allow you set this through the menu systems, but when you start messing with the firmware bad things can happen…we have learned that the hard way. We actually have different technology we built embedded in the firmware of several models of FLIR thermal imaging cameras, very different approach to tracking, but the firmware of most cameras is really really touchy.

  • grant

    sucks for the guy that bought it. he’s out all of his money, is being treated by the police as a criminal, and may have to show up in court to testify etc

    • This is true, especially with high end cameras the odds that a thief would know how to use one is slim, odds are they will sell the camera quickly. Before there was no way to trace stolen cameras so there is a huge market for stolen equipment, thieves have known they can steal cameras and never get caught. We ran into this with our laptop and smartphone software we developed as well. However now that thieves know this data can be tracked and potential buyers know that if they purchase stolen equipment there is a chance they could be out there money and pawn brokers can lose their license and also lose money…we have a paradigm shift in the world of stolen property. In this case the photographer who purchased the stolen camera still has a claim against the person who sold it to him so he may get his money back.

      This also lead to a lot of other stolen equipment being found, so the trail did not end in this one recovery, a lot of other people will be getting their equipment back as well. We have seen this quite a bit with our laptop and mobile phone recoveries as well, this is why the police love us, they usually find other stolen property and other crimes being committed. We had one recovery that helped police solve half a dozen other crimes including other thefts, identity theft, drugs and car theft.

      • IanZ28

        This is a great service you are offering. One that I’m glad to know is available – and who knows it might be able to help photographers check for copyright infringement.

        Unless I’m mistaken there is one major hurdle or problem with this system. Lenses and accessories. Often our lens collections far exceed the value of camera bodies. Losing my old D200 or D5000 wouldn’t bother me all that much. However, if my 11 lenses were stolen I would be heart broken as a couple of them are irreplaceable.

        Perhaps in the future lenses can communicate their serial numbers to the camera for recording in the EXIF data as well.

        On the conspiracy theory side of things. Could this data technically be used to track photographers and their photographic activities? Will police officers begin wanting our camera serial numbers to go along with our drivers license number when they decide to harass us?

        • No you can’t get serial number of the lenses, but you can get some information like lens type, not enough to narrow it down. But odds are that if you recover the camera you will be able to track down at least some of the lenses as occurred in this case. Something I have found that rings true is Locard’s Exchange Principle where “every contact leaves a trace.”

          I can guarantee that my tinfoil hat is bigger than yours. We have been innovating technology that is a bit on the edge for quite a while from using Wi-Fi positioning and web camera capture to track stolen laptops to remotely downloading photos from stolen phones that thieves take of themselves. We always balance privacy with our products as much as we possibly can. With the case of the EXIF data, it has always been a theory that this would work, the problem was that the data was not readily available and to spider the sites would require a lot of horsepower, we solved that particular hurdle and were able to index a massive amount of data over a short amount of time. I don’t think we are the first to do this, I have a feeling the government has been at this for quite a while and probably have a database and tech that dwarfs ours, ours is just the first “consumerization” of the technology and the first public success story.

          • IanZ28

            Hahaha that is great tinfoil hat stuff there. You did give me a couple of chills thinking about government tracking photographs and photography – and it wouldn’t surprise me honestly. Thankfully I have very little to hide concerning my camera usage LOL.

            I still think this is a great service. And I think that it would be possible for camera manufacturers to add lens serial numbers to the EXIF data via the electrical contacts that all camera’s use now.

            Perhaps this is something that can be encouraged with camera manufacturers in the future. After all most professional lenses cost between $1000 and $10,000; they basically can’t be tracked or accounted for once stolen.

            I do understand your point about the trail leading back to the thief and the camera body is a great tracking point. The inability to track lenses definitely is not any fault of yours.


          • Bear D3

            I had about 11,ooo usd worth of equipment stolen in March 2011…..a “smash and grab” out of my SUV. My beloved Nikon D3 as well as many nice lenses were stolen. I read this post and entered the serial # in GadgetTrak……No response, not even from the hundred of photos I have posted on flickr??? If anyone knows what I am doing wrong let me know…..thought it would at least track back to my photos.

            • Have you also tried searching on

              I always recommend searching on both stolencamerafinder and gadgettrak since the databases have indexed different subsets of the internet.

              Disclaimer: I wrote stolencamerafinder so am a little biased!

            • Cliff

              Mr Burns you are also a little spammy.

            • matt burns

              haha, fair point, my bad 🙂

  • PatCL

    guys, sorry kinda off-topic but Nikon D700 back in stock at Samy’s

  • Shane

    Poor fecker that bought the stolen camera lol good story though

  • Matty B

    What? Zoo animals predicted the earthquake??

  • peter

    NOT SO MUCH. Put the s/n of my D300s into it and it found a bunch of hits for a D90.

    • Ken Westin

      This was answered above, this is due to the way Nikon does their serial numbers, they go sequentially from the model so for example a D7000 with the serial number 12345 exists as well as a D300 with the serial number 12345.

  • Matty B

    My search brought 6 results, all taken with my D300. That’s good to know, especially considering my house was broken into this week (but they left my camera stuff). Awesome stuff, Ken.

    • Ken Westin

      I answered this above, this is due to the way Nikon does their serial numbers, they go sequentially from the model so for example a D7000 with the serial number 12345 exists as well as a D300 with the serial number 12345.

      • Ken Westin

        sorry that was meant for the comment above.

        • Bear D3

          Hey Ken my D3 and lenses were stolen in March….put the serial # in your search engine and nothing….not even the hundred of photos I posted on flickr prior to “scumbag” ripping me off. Am I doing something wrong??

          • Ken Westin

            The bots are still indexing and filling in holes, if you email me your information I will put the device on a watch list my email is kwestin (at) If you can provide me with the Flickr ID, I will check to see if the serial number data is present and accessible by the spider.

            • Bear D3

              Will Do……Thanks Ken!!

          • @Bear, Have you also tried searching on

            I always recommend searching on both stolencamerafinder and gadgettrak since the databases have indexed different subsets of the internet.

            Disclaimer: I wrote stolencamerafinder so am a little biased!

  • nikonlover

    There is definitely something to this idea. Nikon should create “Where’sMyNikon” software.

  • cgbbcbcg

    So I don’t get it and neither the article or video explain this.

    How was the buyer of stolen property be able to show a receipt.
    Who gave him a receipt?

  • The biggest problem is the lack of manpower at your local Police Service. Lots of thefts, not enough detectives to work on the cases as they pile up. The Politicians have the money to fly separate his and her Jet aircraft (paid for by the Tax Payer) to a Holiday destination,but there is never enough money to hire more Police Officers (except when they need them to protect the Politicians). Check these links:

  • I bought that D3!

    I almost fell out of my chair when I saw this NR post and saw the press this has been getting in the photography world and media at large. I am a photojournalist and frequent reader of this site and am the photographer who bought the D3 used that ended up being part of John Heller’s stolen gear.

    I am very happy that he got his camera back, I know that if mine had been stolen it would be great to have it back. I applaud Gadget Trak on its service and will be using it myself from now on to register my remaining lenses.

    With that said, I bought the camera off of a major camera buy and sell forum from a seller with 100s of positive feedbacks who is legitimate. He bought it off of Craigslist. I have received a refund from the seller and gotten my purchase price back luckily. Most states have consumer protection laws that mandate the seller must sell legitimate product, and anything sold is implied to be legitimate. I keep meticulous records and receipts, and it saved me in this situation. You always take a risk when buying, even new. Ive never had a problem up to this point.

    However, it was very unpleasant to get a call from the LAPD, complete with un-needed threats of arrest. I had to travel to Los Angeles at my own cost and return the camera directly to one of their police stations. It took 6 follow up calls and 3 conversations with the LAPD detective’s supervisor before they would even give me a receipt showing I returned the stolen property. Overall the lack of professionalism in dealing with the LAPD was severe. I retained an attorney while this matter was being sorted out and even they were appalled at the how the LAPD treated me, since I was also a victim.

    Moral of the story, – you always take risks when buying used gear, so make sure you have names, addresses, and contact information. You never know when it will save you from being out thousands of dollars.

    • Cool! So we have somebody from GadgetTrak and the person who bought the camera in the same thread!

    • Ken Westin

      This is why we try to work directly with law enforcement as much as possible, particularly when they are dealing with new tech, unfortunately they did not reach out to us in this case. Many times our software leads police to someone who purchased a stolen device unwittingly, however they usually unveil larger theft rings in the process. I am very glad you got your money back from the dealer, it will be interesting where this leads police, as it appears there was other stolen equipment involved. Now that thieves realize a camera can leave a trail they may think twice before stealing equipment.

  • L

    @ Roeder

    My first DSLR turned out to be a stolen body. I bought it brand new from a retailer with a storefront, complete with a city biz license. Legit U.S. body, even.

    I didn’t discover it for almost a year. That’s when I took the body to Nikon for service only to find out then that it had been a part of a pallet of cameras stolen off a shipping dock.

    Thankfully I still had the receipt.

    Last I heard from the authorities, the FBI and Port Authority were involved.

    You can bet that any time I buy new gear now, it’s with an “authorized dealer”. The few times I’ve purchased used, I clear it with Nikon before I close the deal.

  • Dan

    Tried doing a search using the following info:

    13) Nikon_0x001c = ..
    | | | – Tag 0x001c (4 bytes, undef[4]):
    | | | 04e4: 00 01 06 00 [….]
    | | | 14) SerialNumber = 3001686
    | | | – Tag 0x001d (8 bytes, string[8]):
    | | | 0720: 33 30 30 31 36 38 36 00 [3001686.]

    and it did find something. Problem is it found a pic from a D300. whereas I have a D7000. So unless there is other “secret” exif data I’m not aware of, I don’t understand how he could hve found his camera.

  • I like the idea, but a D200 serial number I typed in brings up someone else’s D3000 shots on Flickr.

    • Steven

      As mentioned above you need to match the model and serial number for Nikon, they reuse the same numbers as they appear to be sequential for each model.

      • Where specifically is that mentioned above? What day & time was the post? The D200 does not appear in the list of supported cameras, maybe this is the reason?

  • poizen22

    website wont do much to find lenses that is for sure.

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