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The power of digging deep and other theft-prevention tips

By Connie Lannan

June 6, 2023

Left to right: Jessica and Robert Shipley, and Alberto and Carisa Pianelli in front of one of their F & B Rentals trucks

Left to right: Jessica and Robert Shipley, and Alberto and Carisa Pianelli in front of one of their F & B Rentals trucks

Last year, after two forklifts were stolen through conversion, the employees at F & B Rentals, Santa Ana, Calif., discovered just what could happen when they “did not dig deeper into the company or the individual renting the equipment,” says Alberto Pianelli, general manager, who serves as the American Rental Association (ARA) Region Nine director.

“A customer called in and asked for a delivery to a job site for a week. He provided the credit card number over the phone. We noticed shortly after the rental that the forklifts were not at the assigned job site,” Pianelli says. “We were able to have another rental company do a drive-by where our forklifts were. They were all the way out in Highland, Calif. We tried reaching the customer, but that person’s phone was disconnected. We called the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and informed them that our equipment was stolen. They followed the GPS location and stopped two individuals near downtown Los Angeles. These individuals were repainting the forklifts, trying to take off all identifying markers on them and then taking them on separate trucks and trailers. The CHP was able to not only stop these trucks, but they also were able to recover our equipment because of the GPS.”

Unfortunately, Pianelli says, his employee didn’t follow the company’s standard operating procedures. “I think what happened is that my employee saw how big the rental was. He saw dollar signs and didn’t see that things were suspicious. That is what people will do. People will throw out big numbers to you and the counter person sees that it could be a $2,000 rental. The employee will think we can make some good money and it will be delivered to Compton — a job site they know. And because the equipment has GPS, the employee might think he doesn’t need to verify who the renter is and that is when we start letting down our guard,” he says.

One of the red flags that was missed was that the renter had an out-of-state license. He provided an address from Pennsylvania, but his telephone number was from a different state, not Pennsylvania and not California. “The address he provided for the credit card was for a house that was recognized on the national history registry. If we’d done our homework, we would have immediately seen these red flags,” Pianelli says.

The California Highway Patrol successfully stopped those who were hauling one of the forklifts that was stolen from F & B Rentals.

The California Highway Patrol successfully stopped those who were hauling one of the forklifts that was stolen from F & B Rentals.

That is why Pianelli has implemented added policies and procedures for this team to follow. “It is important that we follow the same process every single time. We get a driver’s license and insurance or registration that matches the license and address. We need an updated address of where someone lives. If someone comes in and he is in his uncle’s truck, we ask that he provide us a utility bill that has his name on it and proves this is where his address is at that we can match with what his driver’s license says. We use GPS on our equipment. And to confirm over the phone that someone is who they say they are, we use DocuSign for customers to sign electronically. We also ask first-time customers to fill out a form like a credit application with their signature and credit card number. If they don’t provide those, we tell them we can’t do the rental. They have to provide on that application their license, a picture of their license and a picture of their credit card,” he says, adding that it is important “not to get lax with new or existing customers.”

More ways to protect your operation

Michael Bell

Michael Bell

ARA Insurance Preferred Agent Michael Bell, president of Robert Bell Insurance Brokers, Fallbrook, Calif., agrees with all the steps Pianelli is taking and admits “it is almost impossible to remove theft 100 percent from the equation. In California, a lot of thefts are not at the rental location. A lot of our thefts are around job sites. Rental companies do a very good job of keeping a very secure location with fencing, gates, razor wire, putting equipment in front of the gates, locking equipment up in the yard, etc.,” he says.

With that understanding, he suggests strategies that rental operators should take to help protect their equipment.

  • Have GPS on your equipment. “More companies are putting GPS on their equipment, or the manufacturers are providing it automatically. Some of my clients are putting Apple AirTags on their equipment by itself or with another GPS unit. Having GPS can help you recover your equipment if it is stolen,” he says.
  • Register your equipment with the National Equipment Register. “I think everyone should register their equipment on the NER database because it helps track your equipment better,” Bell says.
  • Be aggressive with certificates of insurance. “Many of my clients are making it mandatory that their renters have valid certificates of insurance,” he says.
  • Get to know your customers, take photographs of the rental customer, their vehicle and license plate. “I have an insured client who takes a photo of every renter. If the renter won’t allow his photo to be taken, he won’t rent to them. He had issues of people coming in with fraudulent credit cards. This has helped that situation,” Bell says.
  • Verify your renter’s driver’s license with the address on the credit card. “You need to have an updated credit card processing that verifies the credit card address to the driver’s license —authorizes it together. If you don’t have that, you are subjecting yourself to fraud,” he says.
  • Find out what the job-site security is. “Put wheel locks on your equipment’s wheels and add kill switches or geofencing. Many rental companies are putting these devices on the machine that will kill the engine or a geofence on it so it can’t operate. Also, have your customer take the tires off generators or towable air compressors if they are left overnight at a job site. Without the tires, it sits on steel jacks. If you leave the tires off, they can’t just roll it away,” he says.
  • Review your rental contract. “When a customer calls a piece of equipment off rent, it might take the rental company time to pick it up. Make sure you review your rental contract to ensure it specifically states that the equipment is under your renter’s care until the equipment is in the rental company’s possession. This will make the renter responsible for your equipment until you can come get it,” Bell says.
  • Be part of organizations that can keep you informed. In addition to registering your equipment on the NER database and receiving the theft alerts, “in California, especially in Southern California, members can be part of organizations such as the Southern California Crime Prevention Program. Part of their program keeps you abreast of what is going on in the area and offers other resources,” Bell says.

Both Pianelli and Bell realize that your efforts can’t eliminate all theft, but taking these steps, including coordinating strategies with your customers at their job sites, can go a long way to protecting your equipment and recovering it if it is stolen. “There needs to be a concerted effort on everyone’s part to help prevent it from happening,” Bell says.