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How to get away with equipment theft: Know how it’s done so you can prevent it

By Sean Reibeling

September 5, 2023

Chances are either your company or someone you know has been affected by equipment theft. Equipment theft and loss has a staggering cost in North America. According to the National Equipment Register (NER) and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), $300 million worth of equipment and materials are stolen per year. Some estimates are as high as $1 billion and growing, with 25 percent of assets never being recovered. Paired with the ambiguity around criminal offence versus breach of contract when it comes to equipment rental theft, this problem is one that continues to impact all levels of the industry.

Equipment theft doesn’t need to be a reality of the industry. Through education and innovation, equipment theft can be reduced. Why give a step-by-step guide to getting away with it? Because the people committing these crimes already have this playbook. To prevent theft, you need to know how they get away with it so you can stop it from happening in the first place. You need to think like a thief.

Find a target and a buyer. Finding a target starts with finding a buyer. Classified sites like Kijiji, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are a great place to start. Just make sure you’re looking out of state. Find someone in search of a specific piece of equipment or list your own hypothetical ad.

Now that you know what you want to steal you have to go find it. Reach out to your local rental houses to see if you can find a match. Make sure the specifics match up with what was listed.

In a target company, look for small or no company decals on vehicles, no security stickers and equipment being stored unattended.

Rent the equipment. When renting your equipment, the less information you can provide the better. If your intended target requests documentation and background checks before renting, you’re better off finding a new mark.

During the ideal rental, take the following steps:

  • Confirm over the phone and pay by credit card (fake of course)
  • Tell them you’ll send one of your “employees” in to pick it up
  • Create, forge or steal any documentation that may be required for the rental such as a driver’s license

Now make sure you don’t go to rent the equipment yourself. Find someone else to rent the equipment, invest a couple of dollars in new work wear and make them look the part. If all goes according to plan, you’re ready to make your get away. If something goes awry, you’re nowhere near the attempted crime.

Make your get away. Make sure your ‘employees’ show up in a truck and trailer that looks the part. Chances are it’s stolen. Just make sure it’s not another rental. Load up your gear, secure it properly and you’re off.

Can’t get your hands on a truck and trailer? Or the rental company insists on delivery? Make sure you have an abandoned lot or field to act as a job site. Direct the rental company to deliver at a specific time. When the time comes, give them a call and say you’re running late to the site and you’ll send an employee ahead to receive the delivery. Have the delivery driver unload the equipment to the site and wait until they’ve left to bring in your own transport. Now feel free to use your own vehicles or rented (legit or not) to transport the equipment.

Prep your equipment for resale. There are a few small steps remaining to get ‘your’ equipment ready for resale. When it’s time to prepare your recently acquired equipment for resale, taking the right steps can make a significant difference in the value you fetch. Ensuring that the equipment is well-prepped, properly documented and ready for a new owner is essential.

Before presenting your equipment for resale, remove any identifiable markings including logos, stickers or company-specific designs. This creates a neutral canvas that allows potential buyers to envision the equipment as their own and removes any evidence of past ownership.

Scan the equipment for any tracking or monitoring devices in the cab or the engine. Remove these to ensure the equipment is not recovered prior to resale. In the event you find any such devices, it would be best to move the equipment to a new location.

Deliver to the new owner. Finally, have another ‘employee’ make the drop off to the new buyer. Whenever possible make the sale in cash. Create any necessary documentation to make the sale look legitimate, giving the new owner confidence in their newfound ownership.

Congratulations, through diligent planning and execution
you just got away with equipment theft!

While this scenario is described through the lens of a thief, the information presented sheds light on how equipment theft happens.

Click here for 10 suggestions for theft prevention.

Click here to learn what to do when equipment has been stolen.

Sean Reibeling is the director of marketing for Frenter, an asset management solution for equipment rental businesses. For more information, visit