Handling stolen goods is considered to be a crime, but if you are unknowingly sold stolen goods then you should not get into trouble for it. If you believe that you have bought something which has previously been stolen from its rightful owner then you should take action.
Visit the Police
If you suspect that you have been sold a stolen item then you should get in contact with the police. Either use the non-emergency 101 number to report the problem, or take the item down to your local police station. Do not call 999 as this is not an emergency unless someone is at imminent risk of harm. They will then take steps to try to return the item to its rightful owner.
If you decide to keep the item even though you suspect that it is stolen, or if you choose to return the item to the person who sold it to you without contacting the police then you may implicate yourself in the crime. Depending on the circumstances, this may be classified as handling stolen goods.
Getting a Refund for the Item
Even though you have taken the item to the police, you should still be able to ask the seller for a refund. The police should give you a property log number and a crime reference number which you can show to the seller. These pieces of information can be used to explain to the seller why you are not returning the actual item. You should also provide the seller with a receipt or other proof of purchase to confirm how much you paid them for the item.
Since the Consumer Rights Act was introduced in 2015, the purchaser is entitled to a full refund from the seller, even if the item was purchased a while ago.
What if the seller refuses?
If the seller refuses to give you your money back, there are some options available to you, although there is only a limited amount of time in which these methods can be used.
If you paid for the item using a debit card then you should talk to your branch manager about reclaiming the money using the “chargeback scheme”. You should act as soon as possible if you want to try this, and you may need to speak to a senior branch member, because the scheme is not well known. If you paid by credit card and the purchase amount was more than £100, you should talk to the card provider about making a “section 75” claim. These claims can only be made for a limited time after the purchase was completed.
You can also try alternative dispute resolution techniques, such as mediation, arbitration and adjudication. If you choose to use one of these strategies, then a third party will work between you and the seller to try to come up with a resolution which is fair.
If the item was an expensive one (e.g. a vehicle), you may want to consider trying to make a claim in the small claims court. You will have to fork out legal fees for the claim in the first instance, but you are likely to get these costs back if you are successful in your claim. However, it is worth noting that if your claim is not successful then you may have to pay the court costs of the winning party. If you are considering taking legal action against the person who sold you the stolen goods, then you should seek legal advice before you do. This can either help you to strengthen your case or it can prevent you from making a costly mistake.