Take these first steps in the case of a stolen artwork.

Art theft statistics say that more than 50,000 pieces of artwork are stolen each year around the world and the black market for stolen art is valued at between $6 billion and $8 billion annually.

While some media outlets claim that art crimes are the third highest-grossing criminal trade over the past decades, according to Interpol “it is very difficult to gain an exact idea of how many items of cultural property are stolen throughout the world.” The agency explains that this is due for the most part to the way crime statistics are gathered. For instance, crime is reported by the act (i.e. burglary) rather than the types of objects stolen, like fine art.

However, statistics aren’t of any help when you have the sudden and terrible realization that a piece of your collection is missing.

It’s important to keep a cool head and start the process to get everything in order. Here are the five things to do when you’ve been the victim of art theft:

1. Protect the scene of the crime

The first and most important thing to do once you’ve discovered the art theft is to protect the scene of the crime to preserve evidence. Don’t move or touch anything that isn’t necessary.

In the case of a theft from a collection in your home, leave the premises for your safety. Keep your home clear of family, friends, pets, and staff for the duration.

In the case of theft from a gallery or museum, notify the staff and keep them out of the immediate area or possibly the full building. Unfortunately, you will need to close the exhibition space to visitors throughout the investigation.

2. Call the police

While there are a variety of agencies that focus on art theft and fraud, like the FBI Art Crime Program and Los Angeles Police Department Art Theft Detail, your first call should be to your local police department.

Calling the police will set the incident on record and provide a starting point for further investigations and insurance claims.

Call the emergency number in your area to report the crime (911 in the US). You will need to provide them with your name, a phone number they can reach you at, the location of the theft, and whether or not you feel the burglars are still on the premises.

3. Gather information to share with the authorities

The more information you can provide the authorities the better. Now is the time when it’s helpful to have an art collection management system like Artwork Archive. This way, you have all of the documentation you need in one centralized, easy-to-access place. 

Photographs, bills of sale, appraisals, identifying information and artist information will be a great help to the authorities as they continue their investigation.

Determine the last time the objects were seen. If possible, gather any security system records or security camera videos. Make a note of any staff or family members who were in the area of the crime in the days leading up to the event.

4. Call your insurance company

Once the police have all the information you need, call your insurance company right away. Your claims specialist will walk you through your policy and give you a to-do list to get your claim underway.

They will need the report number from the police and a description of everything that is missing from your collection. Your insurance company will also be able to help you with any damages to the facility or home and other items stolen during this incident.

You can easily export the key information your insurance company needs with an online art inventory management system like Artwork Archive.

5. Follow up with the authorities

Don't be afraid to follow up with the police and your insurance company to make sure everything is progressing. While it is their job to keep things moving, it’s a piece of your collection that has gone missing.


Learn more about what to do in the tragic case of art theft.