If a piece of your personal property is stolen in the United States, as long as it isn’t a car, there’s a 93 percent chance that you’ll never see it again. The FBI reports that in 2012, more than $9 billion worth of goods (excluding cars) were stolen, but just a little more than $604 million of those goods’ worth was recovered.
Former ad agency chief executive Gary O’Neil and MIT Enterprise Forum professor Ken Smith have done extensive research on these troubling statistics, and in January of 2015 the duo launched Rejjee, a crowdsourced platform to help aggregate lost and found reports into one single system.
It works like this: customers can register their valuables on the site with a picture and some identifying information, such as serial numbers or stickers. If that property is later stolen, a mobile app allows users to instantly report it to the police and also to other members of the site anonymously. Rejjee also offers retailer discounts for items that you have reported stolen, allowing you to buy another one immediately if you so wish to do so.
The site allows you to register all kinds of items, from construction equipment to musical instruments to electronics. However, a lot of the company’s current marketing and branding, including their ongoing Kickstarter campaign, has focused on bike theft, a major area of complaint for many city commuters. The company says that they currently have about 1,000 active users and 10,000 to 15,000 searchable lost items at any one time.
Bike theft “is a pretty serious problem with people in an urban environment,” said Ken Smith, co-founder and head of product, noting that bicycles are often the only way that somebody can get to work. “A bike is not just a plaything.”
Another piece of the company’s mission is to allow police departments to access to their back-end analytics, in order to facilitate catching thieves. Smith noted that most police departments do not have the resources to focus on finding relatively low-value stolen items, which is why many items are never recovered.
The system currently allows the police easy access to see if any of the items they have recovered were reported missing at any point, or show them if they were looking at a trend. “If you have 10 circular saws stolen from the same area, clearly someone’s working that neighborhood, let’s send an officer out there,” Smith said. Rejjee has already partnered with over 150 police departments across the country, including the Boston Police Department and departments as far away as Florida and Texas.
Another goal of the system is to allow online shoppers on sites like Craigslist or eBay to search for their intended purchases on Rejjee in order to verify that they aren’t purchasing stolen property. Smith said that a lot of people often unfairly blame eBay and Craigslist for facilitating criminals selling their stolen goods; however, he said that this kind of blame is misplaced, equating it with blaming Ford for building a getaway car in a bank robbery. Smith said that this kind of functionality, while not currently in place, is something that the company is striving for in the near future.
“If eBay and Craigslist want to partner with us, then that’s the kind of growth we’re looking for,” said Smith.