I recently lost my cell phone and then saw a Craigslist posting of a cell phone that looked similar to my cell phone with the exact same model and storage capacity and color, but its screen was smashed. The location seems to be local. The poster posted on the day after I lost my cell phone. He/she said on the posting that it was bought and then dropped, thereby causing the smashed screen.

I am extremely wary about calling the police. Part of the worry comes from the fact that I shared a personal email address with the stranger. The email address does not contain any real names, but I am concerned that something may be used to track down a person's location or identity, and if that happens, I may be in danger of a vengeful attack. Part of the worry also comes from whether the police would keep whoever calls the police secret.

Anyway, I am not entirely sure how the American law system works in response to suspected theft. What does or can the police do legally? Can the suspected thief see the identity of the one who alerts the police?

  • If this person attacks you for filing charges against him, it is a much more serious offense. Now he or she is probably just facing parole.
    – Viktor
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 11:34
  • In most places it's much more serious than a similar attack against a random person, because it interferes directly with the criminal justice system.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 1:37

2 Answers 2


The legal system is set up to alleviate the problem or conundrum of intimidation by perpetrators. In the US criminal system, the State is the plaintiff, not the individual.

In the extant described situation, very likely all you would have to do is sign an affidavit that the recovered phone is your phone, and that it was removed from your possession by unknown means on or about a certain date. From your description given here you don't know if it was stolen...you appear to have perhaps dropped it or left it somewhere, and someone picked it up/found it. Clearly it didn't belong to them, but this is more like "recovered lost property" rather than "received stolen property."

The craigslist poster might be entirely un-chargeable with a crime, though they might have to give up the phone to you.


It is a standard part of common law justice systems that the accused has the right to know the basis of the accusation.

In the circumstances you describe you would be required to make a statement and if charges were brought that statement would be given to the alleged thief.

If you want them caught and your phone returned you have to be willing to look them in the eye and accuse them.

For the U.S. specifically see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notice

  • Thanks for your answer. Now, to support your answer, you may want to add some references.
    – Double U
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 11:26
  • 3
    A specific reference in the United States is the sixth amendment.
    – Viktor
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 11:32

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