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Does your staff know the theft red flags?

By Connie Lannan

April 16, 2024

Does your staff know the theft red flags? They could prevent a theft.

Red flags are those warning signs that a rental might not be on the up and up. Know them and they could prevent a theft from occurring. Ignore them and, well, you might never see your equipment again.

Detective Sgt. James Dietz, a two-time recipient of the ARA Insurance/National Equipment Register (NER) Award who recently retired from the Michigan State Police SCAR (Southwest Commercial Auto Recovery) Unit, Kalamazoo, Mich., has seen the heartbreaking after-effects of ignored red flags. That is why he strongly encourages rental owners and their staff, particularly their counter personnel, to know the major red flags.

The following, especially if more than one occurs during a rental transaction, should trigger suspicion and prompt you to seek additional information before you let your equipment go out the door:

A potential customer calls ahead to rent and starts talking about specific equipment. “Most people will call in and say, ‘Do you have a skid steer or mini excavator?’ But when they start asking for a specific piece and brand of equipment, that might raise a red flag. Or if you tell them you don’t have a skid steer and then suddenly the customer changes their mind and asks whether you have an excavator instead. Well, that should definitely be a red flag because now they’re just looking for something to take,” Dietz says.

If a customer comes from out of state when they could have rented the equipment from other rental operations along the way. “Why did they come all the way to your facility to rent equipment they could have received from another rental operation closer to them,” Dietz asks. Rental operators need to question this.

A customer wants to rent equipment near closing time. “They know you close at 5 p.m. They come in late. They know you’re busy and trying to get ready to close. They usually are loud, fast talkers and obnoxious, trying to distract you so you can’t ask questions. They hope you will just rush through the paperwork because you want to close the store,” he says.

Customers who come in numbers. “I always ask, ‘How many people does it take to rent a piece of equipment?’ They might have a couple of people come in and walk around the store while one is at the counter and one is sitting out in a truck. They are usually on their phones and know you won’t interrupt them while they are talking. They hope you will go through the rental process without asking them any questions. When that happens, the counter staff should put the transaction down and say, ‘When you are off the phone, we can finish it.’ Remember that thieves will do everything they can to distract you from paying attention to the necessary steps of the rental,” Dietz says.

A customer comes in looking the part, wearing a hard hat or safety vest. “However, if you look closely, you will notice they are usually clean and wearing ironed shirts, jeans and tennis shoes. You need to be aware of people who are trying to act like they are a construction worker,” he says.

The customer’s actions are out of sync with the situation. “If their actions don’t make sense, that should be a red flag,” Dietz adds.

A customer rents for a third party. “Why are they coming in to rent the equipment when it goes to somebody else? Again, that goes back to whether they are from the area or from out of state,” he says, adding that if it doesn’t add up, be suspicious.

The customer arrives at your location with a rented vehicle or inappropriate vehicle to tow the equipment from your operation. “A lot of people will have a third party rent the vehicle for them as a way to distance themselves from the crime. Ask for the rental contract of the U-Haul or other rented truck they drove to your rental operation. Make sure your customer is the one who rented the vehicle. Also, if they come in driving a pickup truck and want to rent a skid steer, that pickup truck is not properly weighted for that type of load. Both can be red flags,” Dietz says.

It is important to educate your staff on these possible red flags and make sure your counter staff have a “way out of the situation,” he adds. “Let them know what you expect from them and what they need to look for. If there’s something they don’t feel is right, give them a way out. Let them tell the customer, ‘Hey, I’ll be right back. I have to check with my boss.’ Then you can come up to the counter as a business owner and deal with the customer or tell them it’s OK to go ahead with the rental.”