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Preventing equipment theft

By Connie Lannan

December 20, 2022

Theft prevention tipsProtecting your equipment from thieves takes a layered approach, according to David Grant Mossman, senior analyst, National Equipment Register (NER), a Verisk business, based in Jersey City, N.J. 

Equipment theft can occur in many ways, Mossman notes. “There’s outright theft, such as job site, dealership and equipment rental business burglary. When examining thefts against dealership and equipment rental businesses specifically, fraud and conversion represent about one-fifth of all thefts where the cause of theft is known — fraud, conversion, burglary, etc. — with burglary being the most prevalent,” he says. 

Reducing thefts by fraud. As rental operators know, fraud is a common form of theft. Mossman stresses the need to train counter staff to be on the lookout for red flags, such as: 

  • Online or phone reservations on credit accounts. “Unauthorized use of an account and impersonation of employees is still common fraud,” he says.
  • Cash customers with no past rental history and ambiguous identification. 
  • A temporary or recently issued ID. 
  • Debit card deposits on trailers and earthmoving equipment. 
  • Renters operating a rental vehicle such as a branded U-Haul type or unbranded Enterprise or Budget Car Rental pickup trucks.  

In addition to the red flags, Mossman says rental operators need to implement specific policies that can help identify potential fraudulent transactions.  

“These policies will train counter and sales staff to take additional proactive measures to steer a potential bad rental when it comes up rather than guessing what to do when confronted with a questionable renter,” he says. Proactive policies could include doing the following: 

  • Put the brakes on a questionable rental. Be certain you can trust the accuracy of the renter’s ID, credit card and contact information before the equipment leaves the store. “With regard to credit cards and their legitimacy, rental operation managers should request support from their merchant services as steps vary from provider to provider. All providers should have a fraud department that can help with this, but it is important that you call them before you need them,” Mossman says.
  • Require a mandatory verification call for charge account clients. Do this when the rental exceeds a certain amount.
  • Insist on seeing the renter’s registration and proof of insurance. Verify they have coverage in case of an accident and be sure and record this information, Mossman says.  
  • Verify the status of the rental truck if the renter comes with one. “Contact the rental company of the truck. The staff at the rental company may be looking for that vehicle,” Mossman says.  
  • Empower the counter staff to say they require management approval for anything they feel is questionable. “That means going with your gut. If it feels wrong, don’t proceed until you are confident everything is legitimate,” he says.

Mossman also strongly encourages rental operators to know how to report a theft by fraud or conversion before it happens. “Know that you may need to educate an officer who takes a report. It’s a lot easier if you have the appropriate statutes handy. A lot of these frauds are obvious criminal acts. For instance, if the ID or credit card is confirmed to be fraudulent, law enforcement officers can act sooner on the offender,” he says.

Minimizing thefts from job sites. Job-site thefts are another frequent tactic. Besides driving by the job site to make sure your equipment is there and equipping your machines with GPS, Mossman says rental operators need to “work with renters to ensure they are aware of their responsibilities in protecting the equipment in their care. Also, stay on top of the GPS and monitor for any odd activity. If your GPS supports it, set up alerts for off-hours activity and geo-fencing. Also, pick up your machines when they’re called off rent or work with your renters to secure them if you cannot get to them,” he says.

Reducing outright burglaries. Mossman says rental operators have to “think like a thief.” He suggests taking the following steps to harden a rental operation and yard to make it more difficult for a thief to access: 

  • Walk around the premises. “Make a policy of walking the fence perimeter every morning and evening,” he says. 
  • See where your physical security could be breached. “See whether your gates, fences and yard barriers are adequate to prevent after-hours access. Make sure doors from your yard areas are properly secured. If you share a fence, see whether thieves can easily get into your yard from your neighbor’s yard. Many machines and vehicles are simply driven through gates or fences, so see whether this can be prevented by staging difficult-to-move machines or by improving gates and fences,” Mossman says. 
  • Check your lighting and cameras. “The lighting should expose activity in your yard and work with, not against, cameras. Cameras should be tested in daylight, twilight and darkness. With the time changes, you need to make sure cameras are getting good images in various types of light. Also check whether your cameras are capturing license plates and getting clear scans,” he says.  
  • Secure your equipment. “That includes checking to ensure a thief couldn’t simply walk up and drive away with your machines,” he says. 
  • Stage your equipment properly. “Are high-target machines, like compact tracked loaders, mini loaders and trailer-mounted welders, staged close to your perimeter or strategically placed behind other equipment — or better yet in your service bays? Definitely don’t invite a theft by leaving equipment loaded on trailers,” he says.  

When there is a theft, file a police report, Mossman says. He also encourages rental operators to register their equipment on the NER HelpTech database. American Rental Association (ARA) members may register up to 1,000 pieces of their mobile, off-road equipment for free. Because NER is connected to law enforcement agencies from around the nation and officers can access the database 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the chance for recovery is greatly enhanced if equipment is registered, he notes. Click here to learn more 

Even if rental operators have not registered their equipment yet and have a theft, “they should report the loss to NER at — whether or not a police report has been made yet,” he says, adding that this step is important for getting the word out quickly “as time is of the essence” when it comes to equipment theft by any means.