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Countertop countermeasures in the Northwest

By Brock Huffstutler

June 6, 2023

Geoff Zellers

Geoff Zellers

Geoff Zellers of Zellers Financial and Insurance Services, Rexburg, Idaho, an ARA Insurance preferred agent, has seen a lot of rental theft “war stories.”

As an expert in rental business risk management, Zellers is uniquely positioned to understand the best practices that equipment and event rental businesses can adopt to help avoid costly theft attempts by bad actors.

Here are some of the theft countermeasures rental business staff — right down to counter personnel — can take to help thwart fraudsters, based on real-life claims Zellers has experienced:

Employ extra scrutiny if the prospective customer arrives in a rented vehicle. “If it’s something like a Home Depot pickup truck, your employees need to ask for a little more: What’s the job for? Where is the job at? That way, your counter guy can get an idea if he recognizes the job,” Zellers says. “Someone in our region went around with that kind of truck and ended up stealing 13 to 15 pieces of equipment from 13 to 15 different locations. Counter guys didn’t really push [for more details] and unfortunately there was a lot of equipment that was stolen.”

Make sure there is a license plate on every vehicle that comes onto the lot.

Beware of out-of-state driver’s licenses. “Those are always a red flag,” Zellers says. “Always inquire a little bit more about that person’s story. It could be as simple as, ‘I moved from Florida to Washington and I’m remodeling the house.’ It is always good to ask follow-up questions when you see an out-of-state driver’s license.”

Cash payments are red flags — try to take some other form of payment.

Use your rental software as a database for flagging known fraudsters. “Put notifications from NER [National Equipment Register], your insurance agent, other rental stores, etc., in your software. You can use that to look and see if the suspect has been a renter and you can place a ‘do not rent’ flag on them,” Zellers says, adding that he has seen this practice thwart would-be thieves in his region. “A rental store in Everett, Wash., put a man’s name that had appeared in an NER theft report in their software. Their system immediately flagged the man, indicating that they had a piece of equipment out on rent to this guy. Luckily, they were able to ping the GPS unit on the equipment and recover it. Another rental store in Tacoma had a guy flagged in their system. The guy came into their store to rent a piece of equipment, they plugged in his name and it said, ‘Don’t rent to this guy.’ The owner of the store emailed me and said that the process saved them from losing a piece of equipment.”

It’s OK to make your insurance provider “the bad guy” if your scrutiny of a potential renter escalates tension at the counter. “You can blame your insurance agent — if that’s me, you can even use my name — whatever you can do to diffuse a situation,” Zellers says.

Zellers also says that one of the most important things rental operators should do to mitigate loss through theft is to lean on the network built into professional groups like the American Rental Association (ARA).

“Whenever a theft happens, I get notified and I send it out to all of our insureds and pretty much every ARA member whose contact information I have. The next thing you know, they just start talking to each other and start letting each other know to look out for people. That cohesiveness of the association really helps,” he says

Zellers cites communication and cooperation among peers as the main factor that lessened the impact of a major theft ring that hit the Northwest in late 2022.

“I have never seen a group of people rally around each other so much to save each other’s backs,” Zellers says. “Rental stores called national chains down to local guys that were a few blocks from them. They didn’t care about competition — they cared about our industry. Kudos to the rental folks around our region for rallying around each other like that. This is what an association is for. We were able to see the power of the association take form in a way that I’ve never experienced before, and we saved more than $1,000,000 worth of equipment because of the association.”

Zellers encourages rental companies to reach out to him for more information on these and other theft prevention ideas at