8 Steps to Deter Construction Equipment Theft - and Get Back What’s Stolen

stolen construction equipmentUntil your company is a victim of equipment theft, it’s probably not on the list of things most contractors worry about.  Yet according to study from National Equipment Register, hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment is stolen each year.

Insurance provides some protection, but the costs of a theft are considerable: the deductible, the cost of rental equipment to replace the machine in the short term and potential project delays. Down the road there may be higher insurance premiums.

It’s good to know a few simple steps can protect your company and improve your chances of recovering the stolen asset.

1. Keep good records

Keeping good records is essential to helping law enforcement recover your equipment. “When you buy a piece of equipment, digitize the paperwork around the purchase and keep a paper file as well. Take photos of the equipment as well as the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), PIN (Product Identification Number) and or Serial Number (SN) plate.” said Gabe Marquez, special agent with the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). This ensures when you report the equipment stolen it will be entered into the Law Enforcement theft databases correctly. 

2. Stamp and label equipment in multiple locations.

Kenneth Peters, deputy sheriff in Hunt County, Texas,  believes the best way to mark your equipment is to use etching tools, die stamping or a steel punch to duplicate a unit’s Product Identification Number (PIN) or other serial number in at least two places on the equipment, one obvious and one hidden. Record the location of these numbers. Marquez advises using labels and unique markings to help identify your equipment. “Thieves will have to make an effort to peel labels off or paint over these markings,” said Marquez. “If you make it easy to identify your equipment, you make it easier for law enforcement to do their jobs.

construction site theft3. Be aware of what equipment is likely to be stolen

“There are certain assets that thieves are always looking for,” said Ryan Shepherd, general manager for Verisk, who oversees the National Equipment Register, a national database of equipment ownership records and thefts. “Skid-steers and backhoes–any equipment that is smaller in size; that doesn’t require a trailer to move–is a target.” These assets can be loaded on a truck in minutes and attract a wide audience of buyers in construction, farming and homeowners. Stolen assets are easily sold online or through social media. If located, stolen equipment will be taken away from buyers who knowingly or unknowingly purchased them.

To prevent theft NER suggests stating smaller equipment so it is surrounded by larger machines. Anchor equipment with either a chain or cable. Institute a policy to remove keys from equipment when not in use or in storage, and securely store them.

“Trailers are another big problem,” said Peters. NER recommends hitch protection or removing the tongue from the trailer. Never leave any equipment on a trailer for an extended time period.

4. Know when thieves are likely to strike

NER data shows an uptick in thefts around long holiday weekends. “Thieves know the crews are leaving on a Thursday night and not coming back until Tuesday,” said Shepherd. Designate someone to check on the site at random times during the holiday. Test to be sure that alarms, cameras and lighting are working. Consider moving smaller machines to a more secure area, or lifting items such as compressors with jobsite cranes. 

theft of equipment 5. Be accessible

“I stress that companies should reach out to local law enforcement to provide contact information and phone numbers in the event of an after hours emergency,” said Peters. Assign the task of reporting crimes to a staff member and give neighboring businesses a number to call if they see suspicious activity.  

 6. Register your equipment

NER allows equipment owners to register their construction equipment on its database. With more than 24 million records, the database helps law enforcement identify stolen equipment, sometimes even before the owner knows it is stolen. The HelpTech service includes registration for up to 50 machines for $250 annually. Volume and association discounts may be available.

According to Shepherd, insurance companies offer incentives to use NER because they know it works. Most will waive their theft deductible up to $10,000 if the machines are registered.

“The recovery rate for stolen equipment when they launched the program was four percent,” said Shepard. “Today our recovery rate is 22-24 percent.”

construction equipment theft7. Consider local equipment theft prevention groups

According to Marquez, local theft prevention groups such as Crime Prevention Program of Southern California can also be effective. They work with law enforcement, provide education and training, and offer rewards for information about stolen equipment. California has one of the highest incidents of construction equipment theft, but Marquez says the 2019 recovery rate of 36 percent is higher than the industry average.  Membership costs $795 per year.

 8. Apply multiple layers of theft prevention with technology

Newer machines with telematics systems can alert an owner when a machine is moved off the jobsite or if the engine is started up outside of designated hours. LoJack can help recover machines through a hidden receiver that broadcasts a signal when activated. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology can help you manage assets and reduce theft at construction sites. “Each technology has its pluses and minuses,” said Marquez. He does believe technology has made a difference in keeping up with construction equipment theft in California. In 2019 thefts were up 30 percent but the recovery rate improved slightly from 34 percent to 36 percent.  

From serial numbers to physical barriers and technology, each additional layer of theft protection provides thieves with a reason to move on to an easier target. Shepherd advises contractors to let their insurance company know all the steps they are taking to prevent theft. “They may be able to reward you with lower premiums.”

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