When buying stolen goods is perfectly legal

How to find police auctions near you

Computer hacker -  masked criminal with keyboard

Fancy picking up a bike for a tenner? Or an iPad for under £200?

If somebody offers you a deal like that in the pub, you don't need to be a genius to work out that it's probably been knocked off.

But did you know that criminals aren't the only ones to sell stolen gear at a rock-bottom price - the police are doing it too.

When stolen goods are recovered by the police, they make their best efforts to return them to the original owners. Unfortunately, it isn't always possible to track them down.

But the police don't want to keep this stuff indefinitely, and so it's sold off at auction for incredibly low prices, with the proceeds going to local charities or the force itself.

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Most forces use a site called Bumblebee to sell off their stolen goods. The items on sale tend to be those that are frequently stolen - think bicycles, jewellery and gadgets such as games consoles.

You can check it out here to see what's up for grabs from forces around England and Wales.

Right now, for example, the site is featuring a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with a current top bid of £131, an iPhone 5C for £65 and an iPad 2 for £163.

However, earlier this year, Thames Valley Police launched its own eBay page; it's currently offering a set of hair straighteners with a top bid of 99p and an angle grinder for £5.50. Leicester has done the same.

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To take part in a Bumblebee auction, you'll need to sign up to the site first, which takes up to four days to finalise; and there are one or two pitfalls to look out for. First, while you can bid on items anywhere in the country, most police auctions require you to collect the goods yourself, or pay for delivery.

Second, it's a case of 'buyer beware'.

"Of course, just because it's a police auction, that doesn't mean it's automatically cheap," says Jenny Keefe of the MoneySavingExpert website. "Always check prices on eBay, Facebook selling groups and the used marketplace on Amazon too."

And even where the price is good, the item might not be: recently, for example, one buyer of eight yellow-metal rings was furious to discover they weren't gold.

However, when he complained to Hampshire Police and demanded his money back, he was told that they hadn't been described misleadingly, and that he'd bid on them at his own risk.

Police apologise for selling 'hippy crack' online

And late last year, Devon and Cornwall Police were ridiculed for selling nitrous oxide - also known as 'hippy crack' - on their eBay site.



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10 incredible auctions