Crime is on the rise everywhere and with so many construction companies powering down in winter, equipment theft is rising accordingly. Pandemic issues such as reduced staffing and unemployment also raise risks.
Equipment thieves strike fast. They bring their own trucks and lowboys and it takes them only minutes to get a dozer, excavator or backhoe onto a trailer and down the road. In many cases, these stolen machines are loaded into a cargo container before the sun comes up (making it all but invisible to law enforcement) and then put on a ship bound for a country where they can never be traced.
But there are a number of steps you can take to keep yourself from becoming a victim of equipment theft. Here’s a checklist of things you should do short term and long-term to protect your iron this winter and all season long.
- Fully illuminate your shop building and equipment yard at night and eliminate any shadowed spots where thieves might hide. New LED bulbs cast a lot of light and use less electricity than traditional lights.
- Install security cameras and alarms. There are hundreds of these available today, so your best bet is to hire a security consultant to help you choose a robust and tamper-proof camera system. Some of today’s security cameras can distinguish between a raccoon and a human being, so you won’t be alerted every time the local wildlife comes searching for a free meal. The price of an expert consultation on these systems is well worth the money.
- Regularly test your alarms and cameras to make sure they are working properly and you’re getting good images in daylight and dark.
- Harden your perimeter. Fences should be at least eight feet high. Razor wire isn’t pretty, but it stops people from going over the top, and cutting through a fence is noisy and time-consuming. Install tamper-proof bollards at gates, so even if thieves get over the fence, it will be almost impossible for them to drive a truck into the yard or equipment out.
- Telematics have made a huge difference in equipment security. These “black boxes” can be programmed to send you an alert anytime a machine moves outside of a “geofence” you designate on the software. The better systems are hidden out of sight and difficult to tamper with and can track the equipment as it's being hauled down the road. Most OEMs now offer their own telematics systems, but there are plenty of aftermarket vendors as well. And theft prevention is just one of the things telematics are used for. They also provide diagnostic data and information about fuel use, DEF levels, driver monitoring, and all sorts of other useful information.
- Simpler GPS tracking devices can be attached to non-mobile equipment such as generators, compressors, welders, and light towers to give you alerts and position information without the full complement or expense of mobile equipment telematics.
- If you want to master theft prevention as well as you’ve mastered other aspects of your business, consider downloading and studying the National Equipment Register’s Annual Theft Report. Lots of useful information and good reading for these long winter nights: https://www.ner.net/annual-theft-report/
- When ordering new equipment consider spec’ing machines that have keypad-only access rather than physical keys. With these, the operator must enter his personal ID or pin number to start the machine. Attempts to tamper or circumvent the system on many will result in an alert. A bonus feature on some systems is that they will store operator preferences tied to the individual ID or pin number.
- As a company owner or equipment manager, make sure you have photos of all your equipment, serial numbers and complete documentation to share with police in case of a theft.
- On the jobsite or the yard never leave equipment parked on a trailer. That’s just making it too easy to steal.
- When you leave a jobsite on a weekend, park all your machines nose to tail so that thieves can’t move one machine without moving the others.
In broad daylight
While most theft occurs at night, our sources in law enforcement say there are enterprising thieves who concoct sophisticated schemes to steal equipment on the jobsite, right under the nose of your foreman.
The scam works like this. The thieves acquire a truck and trailer, slap a fake logo of some repair shop or hauling company on the side of the truck and drive to your jobsite. They ask for the foreman and then present him with a fake work order to take a piece of equipment in for repairs. The work order may even have the logo of a local repair shop or equipment dealer and forged signatures of people from your company.
The unsuspecting foreman assumes it’s all legit and might even help the thieves load the machine onto the trailer. An hour later, that $300,000 machine might be in a cargo container headed for a port or hidden in a barn down some rural road. The truck and trailer will be sold at auction and everybody in your company starts fighting over who screwed up.
This scam works best when the jobsite is being run by an inexperienced foreman. To prevent this from happening, brief all your managers and crew members on how the scam works. Make sure people in the field clear any transfer of equipment with the shop manager or office before they let go of it.
As an extra precaution ask for the truck driver’s license, make sure the photo matches and write down the number. Also get the truck and trailer tag numbers and DOT numbers, which may help, assuming they’re not stolen as well, lead back to the thieves.
Top states for equipment theft
According to National Equipment Register, the top five states for equipment theft are:
Top stolen equipment
And the equipment most targeted for theft:
#1 Skid steer
#3 Tractor, wheeled
If you really want to get into this subject, take a read through our interviews with an actual equipment thief and law enforcement officers who specialize in this type of crime. Some of the technology discussed here is dated, but the insights gained are well worth your time.
And in case you missed it, take a look at this recent article we did about a guy in jail, who conned a dealership out of $2.8 million in equipment.