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Internet Community Catches a Car Thief 169

Posted by kdawson
from the crowdsourcing-justice dept.
COredneck sends us a NYTimes story (registration may be required) about an Internet community solving a crime in less than 48 hours. An auto dealer in Calgary lends a car for a test drive — a 1991 Nissan Skyline GT-R. The test driver and another person don't return the car. The dealer then files a police report, but also posts a message about the stolen car on Beyond.ca, an automotive fan board. Many people who read the board keep their eyes out and find the car. They also use Facebook to find the suspect and his high school; and they use Google Maps to pinpoint the thief's location. They film the collar and post the video on Beyond.ca. The dealer says, "This guy has worldwide recognition for being a car thief for the rest of his life. The Internet is not going away."
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Internet Community Catches a Car Thief

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  • by kcbanner (929309) * on Saturday April 12, 2008 @01:57PM (#23047866) Homepage Journal
    The internet is *not*, I repeat *not* going away! Film at 11.
    • by shanen (462549)
      Bad things happen to really dumb person. Details at 11.

      Seriously, this guy was so dumb that the only news is how he stayed on the streets so long. (I confess, I didn't read the article. But I blame the editors or the submitter for a really dull pitch on the mile-wide trail.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 12, 2008 @02:01PM (#23047906)
    The only reason this worked as well as it did was because of the type of car. You don't see Skyline GT-R's driving around all over the place and it's very well recognized by car enthusiasts (especially the sport compact/drifting crowd).

    If it was something like a Honda Accord then they never would have found it this way.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hardburn (141468)

      Not to mention that any skyline that old in the US is right hand drive and had a lot of effort put into it just to get it over here. Which leads to the question of why a dealership would lend out such a car to a high school kid.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by bmajik (96670)
        beyond.ca == canada, where all of this took place.

        It's reasonably easy to import cars into canada once they are 15 years old. That's why this was an R32 and not the newer R34 which has been the star of a few famous western movies :)

        In the US the rule is 25 years.
        • by jamar0303 (896820)
          And I wish the US would match Canada's rule. Seriously, why does importing cars have to be harder than importing any other comsumer product?
  • by Darundal (891860) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @02:04PM (#23047938) Journal
    ...but Vigilantism shouldn't be encouraged. While a few cases of internet Vigilantism have made news, overall, it is still a bad idea. If stuff like this continues, we are going to end up with mob rule. And who is to say that the mob has the right guy?
    • by c_forq (924234) <forquerc+slash@gmail.com> on Saturday April 12, 2008 @02:18PM (#23048028)
      Why do you hate democracy?
      • by Chrisje (471362)
        That's the wrong question.

        "Why do you *think* you have democracy?" would be a more apt one.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 12, 2008 @02:23PM (#23048056)

      And who is to say that the mob has the right guy?
      The police.

      The term "vigilante" has been misused a few times in this thread, so either bunches of people haven't RTFA, or people aren't clear on the definition of vigilantism. This isn't a case of vigilantism as per the dictionary definition because it was the police that arrested the guy and the government who will try and (maybe) punish him.

      Vigilantism is when "a self-appointed group of citizens who undertake law enforcement" -New Oxford American Dictionary

      All the Beyond.ca guys did was identify the thief. The actual police have done all of the enforcement, if you'd like, here's a video to confirm. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T-kZ7pk1NU [youtube.com]
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by noidentity (188756)

        All the Beyond.ca guys did was identify the thief. The actual police have done all of the enforcement

        They also made claims about his guilt etc. What if they were wrong, would they compensate him for their error? THAT is the problem with this, and why it has been labeled vigilantism.

      • by zakezuke (229119) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @03:56PM (#23048610)

        All the Beyond.ca guys did was identify the thief. The actual police have done all of the enforcement, if you'd like, here's a video to confirm.
        And box in the car, twice apparently. Since it's not a person we can't call it an arrest, but I would argue that at this point they took a very active role, rather than just passive reporting and photographing.

        A group took it upon them selves, to investigate and take measures to assist in the identification and apprehension of the thief and recovery of stolen property. The action they took to me is a form of vigilantism. I wouldn't say they violated due process, though if they had boxed in the wrong car I'm sure they would have to answer for their actions in one way or another.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by mike2R (721965)

          I don't agree with this - vigilantism is concerned with extra-judicial punishment, not apprehension or even arrest. You have a right to catch a criminal and hand him over to police, although yes, you have to stay within the law yourself.

          The police are not the only one's who can uphold the law - rather they're a government agency set up to assist in doing so; the law in many countries still makes explicit provision for a citizen's arrest [wikipedia.org].

          • by zakezuke (229119)

            I don't agree with this - vigilantism is concerned with extra-judicial punishment, not apprehension or even arrest. You have a right to catch a criminal and hand him over to police, although yes, you have to stay within the law yourself.

            I would still argue it's a form of vigilantism as many people who participated in this campaign did so under the three fingered flag of great justice. The justice served was done so by blocking the car so it could be retrieved by the owner as it was clearly felt that the authorities response was inadequate.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by mike2R (721965)
              Well maybe - but if you're a shopkeeper you have the right to pursue a thief, and shout out to your neighbors to join in the hunt. No-ones going to complain in that situation if the thief gets rugby tackled and restrained. Reading through the thread [beyond.ca] that's pretty much how I see it.

              The thing is that "the authorities response" is always going to be inadequate from the point of view of someone who has just seen thousands of their own money getting nicked; the police can't and won't drop everything to get you
              • by ShakaUVM (157947)
                >>As I see the law (I'm British, but it seems pretty much the same in most places) you have the right to defend yourself -
                >>you have to obey the law while doing so, but there is no requirement to wait on the police.

                Shame that in England, defending yourself and obeying the law are contradictory. It pisses me off when I read about an old WWII vet pulling a gun on a house robber and getting arrested for it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jroysdon (201893)
          That's like saying someone who stops a guy who snags someone's person and hold him for the police is a vigilante.

          As someone else pointed out, a vigilante [wikipedia.org] is someone who ENFORCES their own JUSTICE. Just holding someone (or clearly stolen property) for the police to handle isn't vigilantism.

          Batman is a vigilante because he doesn't just catch the crooks, he dishes out his own punishment, without following due process of the law.
          • by zakezuke (229119)

            As someone else pointed out, a vigilante is someone who ENFORCES their own JUSTICE. Just holding someone (or clearly stolen property) for the police to handle isn't vigilantism.

            As I pointed out... the actions taken were under the three fingered flag of "great justice". The injustice was theft of property. The justice served was action taken, blocking the car, so the owner could retrieve their property. Further more, the owner plans on keeping this person's face on the internet and labeling them forever as a car thief.

            I'm not complaining. I in fact agree with the actions of a bunch of proactive citizens in this case. But I still see it as a form of vigilantism... just not out

      • The term "vigilante" has been misused a few times in this thread, so either bunches of people haven't RTFA, or people aren't clear on the definition of vigilantism.

        In the US the term is unlicensed investigator. It's what is giving the RIAA and Media Sentry a hard time. I wonder if the guy will walk and get the car back because of the unlicensed detectives? Just kidding... Great job.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Korveck (1145695)
      Reminds me a few cases I saw. People made up stories of someone unfairly treated in some ways, posted them on popular interactive sites. Some of the people who believed the story quickly found contact info of the target and bombarded them with phone calls and e-mails. These cases ended without serious damages, but eventually this practice will ruin life of an innocent person.
    • by j0nb0y (107699) <jonboy300@y[ ]o.com ['aho' in gap]> on Saturday April 12, 2008 @02:51PM (#23048228) Homepage
      It's not vigilantism when the crime is reported to the police and the police make the arrest. That's what happened in this case.

      Vigilantism would be if upon finding out where the car is, an angry mob descended, beat the crap out of the guy, and then took the car back.

      There's quite a difference between vigilantism and what happened in this case.
    • The same thing was said about Joe Horn in Houston. The fact is that if the cops can't help you keep your stuff and the "Internet Mob" can, who do you turn to? The cops have been crippled by PC garbage, so people go after criminals directly. And if your car gets stolen, I bet you post it to your forums, tell your friends, and look for it yourself. My girlfriend did, and we found her stolen truck. Then we called the police and told them that they could stop "looking" for it now.
    • Under the common law it was legal to perform a citizen's arrest on someone committing a felony.

      Unfortunately I do not know how much of the common law remains intact in Canada.

      Yes I know the beyond.ca guys didn't arrest the guy, but merely identified him. I'm just saying...
      • It still is, but the burden of proof is significantly higher - you have to be either a witness to the actual commission of the crime, or have a reasonable awareness there of "a la Crimestoppers, police reports or the like", not "some guy on a forum said so"...
    • by autophile (640621)

      ...but Vigilantism shouldn't be encouraged.

      I know. I bemoan the loss of income to professional detectives to these vigilante detectives!

  • headline in 5 years: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by globaljustin (574257) <justinglobal@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Saturday April 12, 2008 @02:04PM (#23047940) Homepage Journal
    "Internet vigilante group charged with 5 counts of murder"

    I'm glad these thieves were caught. Law enforcement could take a few notes.

    What troubles me is the implications of internet vigilantism. Look at Perverted Justice to see a prime example of how it can go wrong. When the NYtimes is reporting on this, it's just a matter of time before we see internet vigilante groups doing all kinds of suspect activity.

    There is nothing wrong with helping the police catch thieves, but when vigilantism gets so much play in the media without a counterbalance, you will undoubtedly see citizens setting people up for the thrill of it. Perverted Justice is a perfect example. PWNing n00bs in World Of Warcraft gets old, so they try something with higher stakes...'hunting' bad guys in the real world via the net. It's the perfect escalation of a video game, and it WILL get out of control (more than it already has).
    • by JustShootMe (122551) * <rmiller@duskglow.com> on Saturday April 12, 2008 @02:12PM (#23047994) Homepage Journal
      This wasn't vigilantism. Other than blocking the car in, they did not engage the guy directly, nor did they try for mob justice. They blocked him in so he couldn't get away, and then they called the cops and waited for them to show up.

      I see nothing at all wrong with this. The cops can then determine if a crime was committed, and guess what? If not, they can arrest the "vigilantes" for filing a false report.

      (Now if they d actually tried to hold the person *himself* then I'd have a problem with that. That's when you get into the realm of false imprisonment and civil rights violations.
      • This wasn't vigilantism

        didn't say it was...my issue with this was the implications if unchecked...in case you missed it in my first post:

        There is nothing wrong with helping the police catch thieves, but when vigilantism gets so much play in the media without a counterbalance, you will undoubtedly see citizens setting people up for the thrill of it. Perverted Justice is a perfect example.

        now, you said:

        they can arrest the "vigilantes" for filing a false report.

        if you look at particular cases you will

      • by penguin king (673171) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @04:17PM (#23048756)
        It's kinda scary even if you don't think it's vigilantism. In this case an actual wrong was committed (I think we can safely say this). However what proof did the dealer provide of his ownership? Lets think of a situation where some guy has really pissed me off. I go onto a forum, identify him with a characteristic that can't be mistaken, the car he will be driving that I "own" (actually in this example his car, but you don't know that) which luckily for me is a very distinguishable car (or bicycle, whatever) claim he stole it and sit back waiting for him to be harrassed by forum members trying to find my stuff.

        The thing about this kind of investigation is that the police have policy and procedure for a reason. Whilst they might ask a few questions, when it becomes evident that you're using them as a tool for harrassment, it's gonna bite you in the ass (arse).

        I for one think it's lovely that people will go out of their way to do this kinda thing, but I can see it going really wrong. Don't stop running after the guy you just saw mugging the old lady, or taking photos of the hit and run (FA) that you just saw, but next time you read "X stole my Y, he looks like Z keep an eye out", perhaps investigate the truth of the story before you investigate X when you see him in his/the Y looking like Z
        • by Jimmy_B (129296)

          Lets think of a situation where some guy has really pissed me off. I go onto a forum, identify him with a characteristic that can't be mistaken, the car he will be driving that I "own" (actually in this example his car, but you don't know that) which luckily for me is a very distinguishable car (or bicycle, whatever) claim he stole it and sit back waiting for him to be harrassed by forum members trying to find my stuff.

          Then that would be libel, which is a tort. Fortunately, all that the car's owner would h

      • Yeah right. The forum is full of pics of him AND his girlfriend from Facebook. If you really checked the forum, they are posting the thread to literally every news site just for humiliating the guy.

        Of course, it is not vigilantism.
        • I did check the forum. I read it the day all of this went down. I know exactly what happened.

          But posting pictures of someone and making fun of him and his girlfriend does not mean they're being vigilantes - it means they're being assholes.

          And, let's face it, a little assholism was warranted - at least for the guy. The girl should have been off limits and I didn't like that when I read it either.

          But jerk != vigilante.
    • by Jarjarthejedi (996957) <{christianpinch} {at} {gmail.com}> on Saturday April 12, 2008 @02:48PM (#23048202) Journal
      Slippery Slope fallacy. This isn't even remotely close to what you're proposing it will lead to. While there may someday (and already have been) cases of vigilantism gone wrong there are just as many case of it gone right. So long as the correct sort of vigilantism (the 'get some info and call the police', not the 'go batman on them') is portrait as a good thing I highly doubt the other one will become seriously popular.
      • While there may someday (and already have been) cases of vigilantism gone wrong there are just as many case of it gone right

        I gave you a specific, relevant, ongoing example of how internet vigilantism IS going wrong right now:

        What troubles me is the implications of internet vigilantism. Look at Perverted Justice to see a prime example of how it can go wrong.

        You did not counter that example in your argument at all. Dxplain how my example of cyber-vigilantism does not apply. Perverted Justice started o

      • by RonnyJ (651856)
        While there may someday (and already have been) cases of vigilantism gone wrong there are just as many case of it gone right.

        The problem is, one case of vigilantism 'gone right' doesn't balance out one case of vigilantism 'gone wrong'.

  • by v1 (525388) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @02:21PM (#23048038) Homepage Journal
    First off as a dealer you should not allow anyone to test drive without proof of insurance and license. Your dealer lot insurance may cover an uninsured/unlicensed driver's accident, (I've been hit by someone that way before) but your insurance co is not going to like you after the fact. That license has your name and picture on it. You should at least record their name. Better would be a photocopy of both before you give them the keys.

    Second, why are they letting someone go for a test drive unaccompanied by someone from the dealership, someone they don't personally know?

    This should not have happened in the first place. I can't say I would have felt sorry for them had it not gone this well. It does not set a good example to show how you can be stupid and get away with it due to the marvels of modern technology.

    I personally hope their lot insurance rates go through the roof for a year over this. Roundabouts, it's people doing stupid things like this and NOT getting lucky that result in MY rates going up to spread the loss coverage.
    • by bmajik (96670)
      The kid brought forged ID documents.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by topham (32406)
      Proof of what insurance? You need a vehicle to have car insurance. While this individual may have a car in his name, that doesn't make it a requirement for purchasing a car.

      As for driving without being accompanied by someone from the dealership; it's actually pretty typical in Canada, at least everywhere I've been.
      Sure, if your young and trying to test drive a fancy car they might insist on accompanying you, but they typically only do that if they think you can't be trusted for 5 seconds to not do something
      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        The difference is, that it's easier for the cops to track down a stolen car, then track down a stolen DVD.
        • by schon (31600)

          it's easier for the cops to track down a stolen car, then track down a stolen DVD.
          Uhh, because the stolen DVD is inside the car?

          Or does the car thief know the whereabouts of stolen DVDs?

          I'm unsure about your causality here - can you elaborate?
          • by CastrTroy (595695)
            Well, once you've got the car thief, you've filled your quota for a while. So you can go after piddly little DVD thieves.
    • Better would be a photocopy of both before you give them the keys.

      You are absolutely correct that a dealership should check that you have valid ID, and possibly even insurance (which you might not have yet if you are buying your first car).

      However, in this day and age of identity theft, if an employee of a dealership asked to make a copy of my license, or even take it for longer than to just check its validity, I would walk off the lot right then and there.

      Part of the sales guys job is to try to find

  • by thompo (1271946) on Saturday April 12, 2008 @02:24PM (#23048062)
    ...from the initial post about the car being stolen, to posts from various members sighting the car, to the eventual arrest video and hilarious photochops to go along with it all. At one point, there were 400 members and 5000 guests viewing the thread. Every refresh would bring up 5-10 more posts instantly. This wasn't so much a case of internet vigilantism. The thief had literally been spotted driving like an idiot by multiple members of that board - before the post was even made. At that point people started chiming in with "holy hell, i saw that guy too, he was driving 90 down a residential street near ". All of these sightings eventually led to a sighting right outside the guy's own home... case closed. I highly suggest logging into beyond.ca and reading the thread, there is some serious photoshop comedy gold in there.
  • Doesn't this just show how easy it is to stalk someone using the internet?
    • by multisync (218450)

      Doesn't this just show how easy it is to stalk someone using the internet?


      No, I think it shows how easy it is to use the Internet to track down a guy driving around town like an idiot in a rare, right-hand-drive car waving his distinguishing feature at anyone who flashes him the "rock 'n roll" sign.
  • Let's see 'em: ytmnd, *chan, worth1000, etc. Let the people laugh!
  • New Agent: All right, people, I'm in charge now and we will find the terrorists. Jarvis, I want you to check for any terrorist chatter on AOL. Marley and Greggs, try searching for nuclear devices on askjeeves.com.
    Kyle: Ask Jeeves? Nobody uses Ask Jeeves! Just Google-search it!
    New Agent: Are you tellin' me how to do my job?
    Kyle: Yes. There's a Russian guy named Vladimir Stolfsky who's got search engine hits all over this thing.
    New Agent: Chase, search the name Stolfsky on YouTube and cross-re
  • by mi (197448) <slashdot-2012@virtual-estates.net> on Saturday April 12, 2008 @02:56PM (#23048258) Homepage

    What about the rest of us? If somebody posts my car's pictures online and asks people to help them find me, the same tricks will work. It will be even quicker, because I will not even be expecting any sort of pursuit...

    When police try to use these methods, we are full of "big brother" gloom. When "the mob" does it, we are cheering...

  • by Naito (667851)
    Vigilantism can be a dangerous thing, but I think in this case they did it as correctly as they could have. At no point did they actually confront the perp, and basically left all confrontations to the police. All they did was help track him down and then let the proper official channels handle him from there. At the very worst, they might have been called out for harassing the guy by hiding outside his house etc. But then again, if the perp really was innocent, he could have called the police himself f
  • I still consider the ultimate classic 'P-P-P-Powerbook' [zug.com] to be the prime example of creative internet community vigilantisim. Allways a funny read indeed.
  • The best I saw was someone solving a burglary in something like 2 hours on the internet. The stolen goods were recovered in something like 4 hours or so.
    • A year or two ago, someone stole a package off my porch that contained new handles for my PowerMac. The thief opened the box, saw it wasn't something they wanted, and dumped it in a neighbor's recycling bin. The neighbor returned the box to me, with contents intact, when I got home from work.

      Sure, the thief never suffered any consequences, but I thought it was a pretty good outcome, and was resolved in just a couple hours without the internet.
  • I'm not real impressed with the used car dealer selling the thief's hat after he was arrested. Yeah, the kid was a dope, but that doesn't make it any more acceptable to steal his stuff.
  • I caught this story on autoblog the day after it all went down. I spent most of an afternoon reading the beyond.ca thread. The seriousness of a car theft with dashes of Photoshop hilarity thrown in for good measure. I highly recommend it.

    Also, the beyond.ca "mob" showed a lot of self-restraint, and they showed a lot of class in helping out a fellow citizen.
  • The latest Search Engine [www.cbc.ca] podcast (direct download [podcast.cbc.ca]) has an interview with the car dealership guy. Interesting story.

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