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Job-site thefts rise, so what can you do?

By Connie Lannan

June 6, 2023

Mark Mancill by one of his self-propelled boom lifts outside his Taylor Rental Center store in Plano, Texas

Mark Mancill by one of his self-propelled boom lifts outside his Taylor Rental Center store in Plano, Texas

Mark Mancill, president, Taylor Rental Center, Plano, Texas, has been working at the store since 1980. He’d never had any of his equipment stolen from a job site until last year.

“In 2022, we had a small hit of a ride-on roller stolen. Then, in January of this year, we had a $125,000 Kubota excavator stolen off a job site. Two weeks later we had a $60,000 Kubota skid steer stolen off another job site,” Mancill says.

With the excavator, “our customer called us on a Monday to renew the rental. On Wednesday, he called and told us we weren’t supposed to pick this piece up yet as he wanted to keep it on rent. I said that we didn’t pick it up. This is a big machine. The thieves had to bring in a tractor trailer to steal it. Our customer asked around and found someone in the neighborhood who saw a truck being loaded up. They thought it was supposed to be loaded up,” Mancill says.

The theft of the skid steer was somewhat similar. The equipment had been on rent for a number of months. “When my customer went to the job site, he saw that the piece of equipment was gone,” Mancill says.

Dillon Hughes, owner, Only 1 Rentals, Navasota, Texas, who serves as past president of the Texas Rental Association (TRA), had a skid steer stolen in November 2022. “We recovered that machine with the trackers we installed on the machine. They couldn’t find our GPS because of where we had it located. The thieves moved the machine about 30 miles away, but because of the GPS we were able to locate it. We notified the sheriff’s department. A deputy went to the location where the GPS was located and sat there until we could get there to pick it up,” he says, adding the thieves were never caught.

Mancill and Hughes are not the only ones who have been impacted by thefts at job sites. ARA Insurance Preferred Agent Leon Kothmann, owner of the Leon Kothmann Insurance Agency in Arlington, Texas, has seen a rash of these types of thefts hitting many of his insured clients.

Dillon Hughes and his brother, Lucas, in front of two of their excavators in the yard at Only 1 Rentals in Navasota, Texas

Dillon Hughes and his brother, Lucas, in front of two of their excavators in the yard at Only 1 Rentals in Navasota, Texas

“Right now, machinery theft from job sites is the biggest issue, particularly skid steers and mini excavators. Thankfully, we haven’t been seeing much fraud or theft by conversion right now,” he says.

Since the job-site thefts, Mancill has put GPS on all his equipment. In the past he put it on some of his equipment. Neither the excavator nor the skid steer that was stolen had been equipped with GPS. Neither piece was ever recovered.

He also has been putting in large print on the front of the contract, in addition to the back, a statement saying the customer is 100 percent financially responsible if the equipment is stolen or lost. “We have the customer sign right below the statement, which also offers recommendations on how they can secure the equipment. By reading and signing it, it helps them to become more aware of their responsibility,” he says.

Hughes has begun doing the same on his contracts as a way to underscore the message and focus attention on this aspect.

Both are proactive in taking additional steps to help prevent theft from happening at their operations:

  • They require a valid driver’s license and credit card, making sure the credit card has been approved and the information on the card matches the information on the driver’s license and the ticket. “We feel a little more secure with a credit card. If it is a first-time customer, we normally have them pay a larger deposit, too. If they don’t want to pay the deposit, that is a red flag for us,” Mancill says.
  • They ask a lot of questions, especially if the renter is from out of town. “We ask why this person is in town, the address of the job site, the job they are doing, etc.,” Mancill says.
  • Each rental operator has cameras that can videotape the rental transaction. “We have a big TV monitor at the counter that can check all the cameras on the property,” Hughes says.
  • They empower their staff members. “My staff has the say-so and authority to decline a rental,” Hughes says.

More ways to protect your operation

Leon Kothmann, ARA Insurance preferred agent

Leon Kothmann, ARA Insurance preferred agent

Kothmann agrees with all of these steps and suggests a few more that rental operators should take.

  • Get the make, model, license plate number and also the serial number/vehicle identification number (VIN). “Thieves might switch out the license plate, but they usually do not change the serial number. Police can find out who that vehicle belongs to if you have a serial number,” he says.
  • Secure the customer’s thumbprint on the contract. “If this person is a crook, that individual will refuse to do it. It is better to miss a rental than lose a piece of equipment. A lot of rental operators don’t want to use black ink because it is hard to wash off. They can use a clear ink, which banks use. The thumbprint will show up under a UV light,” Kothmann says.
  • Have trackers/GPS on all equipment. “I recommend having two trackers — one wireless and one wired. You can bury the wireless ones deep into the machine, put them under the seat or wherever. They are magnetic, so a lot of rental operators put them under the frame of a trailer, too,” Kothmann adds.
  • Receive the address where the equipment is going to be used. “If you have a tracker on the machine, you can see where the piece of equipment is going. If it is not going to the designated address, you had better start tracking your equipment,” he says.
  • Make certain you have a signed contract. “If you have a regular customer, having something signed from that person stating that anything delivered to that person or his job site is like having that customer’s signature on the contract,” Kothmann says.
  • Register your equipment on the National Equipment Register (NER) database.
  • Ask for certificates of insurance to see whether the customer has certificates for leased or rented equipment. “If they don’t have it, share that it is not very expensive to purchase. If they are a contractor working with leased or rented equipment, it will cover any piece of equipment they rent. Contractors will have liability insurance and a lot have insurance that covers leased or rented equipment because they are renting a lot of equipment at one time. Homeowners won’t have that. Contractors can have that added to their liability insurance. They need to make sure they add inland marine coverage to their coverage,” he says.
  • Make sure you have a camera that takes a photo of the vehicle leaving your premises with the equipment. “This way, you have documentation of the vehicle, the license plate, the equipment they rented and how that equipment looked when it left your rental operation,” Kothmann says.
  • Be extra careful when renters come in near closing time. “A large percentage of our thefts by conversion happen within the last half-hour of the store being open. They push for the rental to be done before closing time. By doing it at the end of the day, sometimes you can’t get the approval back from the credit card company before you close,” Kothmann says.
  • If you are a startup, make sure you have everything ready before you open your doors. “You have to get your contract and everything else lined up and ready to go as soon as you open up. A lot of times professional crooks will hit early in the morning, especially if you are the new guy in town. Word spreads that there is a new guy in town and they will try to hit you first,” he says.
  • Trust your gut. “If you don’t feel like you should rent to that customer, say it is broken down or whatever and that you won’t be renting until later. Gut feeling goes a long way. If it sounds too good to be true, it normally is,” Kothmann says.

Hughes also pays close attention to the NER theft alerts as well as those offered by TRA. “There was one TRA theft alert from a friend of mine about 20 miles away. A week later we had a new person working the counter. I was in my office and overheard the conversation. My counter person was asking a lot of questions, which prompted me to come out of my office. I noticed that the description of the vehicle, the wheels and tires and the renter were very similar to what was on the theft alert. At this point I was connecting the dots. The renter had his head tucked away from the camera. I looked at the phone number, which was a Florida number. Everything was the same except the last digit was off by one from what was listed on the theft alert. We ended up turning down the rental. That person walked out the door and didn’t ask why. It turned out to be a learning experience for all of us,” he says, still grateful that his counter person had been asking so many questions.

Mancill, Hughes and Kothmann agree that theft prevention requires a layered approach and a partnership with your customer.

As Mancill says: “I think you just have to do multiple things. The more you can do — scanning the driver’s license, getting video of them renting the equipment, having GPS on the equipment, getting job-site addresses and such — the better it is,” he says.