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Bumblebee Auctions - aka police eBay

Broken WindowEver wondered what happens to lost and stolen goods found by police that don’t get reunited with their owners? Bumblebee Auctions is the police version of eBay.

More shoppers are letting their fingers do the talking than their legs do the walking.

Shoppers are increasingly making purchases from the comfort of their own homes, with new figures from the British Retail Consortium showing that while high-street sales are down 1.9 per cent on a year ago, internet sales are up 7.5 per cent.

So we haven’t stopped buying – we’ve simply taken to doing our shopping via the web instead.

And when it comes to online shopping, we’re a nation of bargain hunters – hence the success of auction sites such as eBay and Amazon Marketplace.

But there is also a little-known, police managed website - it’s called Bumblebee Auctions.

It’s an official police website that the forces use to sell on lost and stolen goods that are not needed as evidence and where the rightful owners cannot be identified.

How it works

Users bid online in an eBay-style auction. Items are usually listed with an accompanying photograph and description and all have a reserve price of £1, with the lot going to the highest bidder.

For money-savvy shoppers, there are some amazing bargains to be had on items which range from the mundane to the bizarre.

Currently on the site there is an array of mountain bikes, Apple iPods where bidding stands at just £20 and camera phones that would cost £100 new, listed for just £1.*

And then there are the more offbeat items. Besides lost and stolen goods, some forces use the site to dispose of force items. One of the more unusual lots on the site includes seven tonnes of metal crash barriers, used by Sussex Police to keep the public at bay during political party conferences.

The highest-priced item ever on Bumblebee Auctions was a BMW 330Ci Clubsport Automatic Coupe which eventually sold for £13,269.

‘Voyeuristic interest’

Site administrator Chris Leach said the appeal of the police auction site was its curiosity factor.

“With police auctions there’s a voyeuristic interest that makes the site very popular with users.

“It’s not like a supermarket where people go in to buy milk and bread - the basics. It’s more of a treasure trove where people might go for a look and end up coming away with something completely random.”

According to Leach, the most common items on the site are jewellery – “we get some very good pieces” - mountain bikes and power tools.

Unexpected finds

“We also get our fair share of unexpected items, such as an antique brass diving helmet, and an industrial fog machine,” he said. “It’s very much in keeping with the random nature of the site.”

There are 18 police forces currently signed up with Bumblebee Auctions with a 19th – Warwickshire – due to start selling in May.

All the money raised goes to charities local to each police force area.

The site has been going since 2002 and is growing in popularity every year – in March it drew almost 1.5m visitors.

Winning bidders can collect their item from the police force which is selling it or pay for courier delivery.

Bear in mind that an auction or purchase can be cancelled if the property’s rightful owner is found before the winning bidder has paid for and collected it.

Bidding wars

But if you’re looking for a bargain, it’s worth having a look. And for the more frugal among you, particularly with wedding season coming up, you can bag yourself some cut-price bling. Right now there’s a bidding war over a gold ring with a current top bid of £311* - definitely a saving on the traditional two month’s salary wedding ring spend.

If you have an opinion on this article and Bumblebee Auctions, then let us know by posting your opinion below.

*Prices correct at time of writing

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Naphtalia Loderick

Naphtalia Loderick

Naphtalia Loderick reports on all things personal finance at Confused.com. She started out on a weekly newspaper, via a national news agency and a stint in the fun but ‘not as glamorous as it appears on screen’ world of TV at the BBC researching consumer films for The One Show.

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