The power of set protocols and always following your gut
By Connie Lannan
June 6, 2023
On the whole, Jeff Jackson, president, All Purpose Rental & Sales, Greeley, Colo., and Charles Burnette, manager, Best Rental, Fort Collins, Colo., say they have been pretty fortunate regarding theft, either at their rental operation, on the job sites or through conversion.
“We have been pretty lucky overall,” says Burnette, who serves on the ARA of Colorado board. “We did have a theft about one-and-a-half years ago when we had two generators stolen from our yard. The thieves climbed over the fence and cut the chain on one of the gates. The generators had wheels, so I think it was the easiest thing to take out of there. The area was lit and we captured it on video, but we were never able to recover the equipment. Since that theft, we’ve added more lighting in that area and plan to put in more soon.”
Jackson, who serves as president of the ARA of Colorado board, lost an appliance dolly to conversion last December. “The customer who rented it never returned it. That is most of the theft I have dealt with. I rarely lose equipment off a job site,” he says gratefully.
Both take measures to secure their operations with lighting, cameras and chain-locked fences. They also have set in place policies to help protect their equipment before it ever leaves their premises.
At Best Rental, “99 percent of the time we require payment up front, usually by credit card. New customers are credit card only, and we require a hefty deposit if a renter wants to pay in cash. We check the driver’s license and make sure it matches the credit card,” Burnette says.
The rental operation also has a camera system in place so that when a renter drives into the yard, it can catch their license plate and the vehicle.
“We also register our equipment that can drive away on the National Equipment Register (NER) database, put stickers and paint numbers on all our large equipment and engrave our information on all our smaller pieces,” he says.
Jackson follows a similar route. When it comes to drivers’ licenses, “our renters must have a valid Colorado driver’s license. As far as payment, we prefer credit card. I will accept cash from some people I know and who have a history of renting from us. We still occasionally have people who want to pay by check, typically those who are older, have been coming in for years and their five-digit check number says it is a well-used account. I will gladly take a check from the right person,” he says.
Jackson focuses a lot on the red flags and his gut instinct — aspects he frequently discusses with his staff.
“We are always evaluating every person and asking key questions such as ‘What are you planning to do with the equipment?’, ‘Where is the location of the job site?’ and such. If they are not forthcoming with information, that is a red flag,” he says.
Also, “if the renter asks too many questions, particularly ‘We pay for this when we return it, right?’ that is a huge red flag,” he says.
Because neither Jackson nor Burnette are always at the counter, both empower their counter staff to seek guidance if they feel uncomfortable with a renter or even refuse a rental if things just don’t seem right. “They can come to me. They also can make the decision to refuse a rental,” Jackson says.
More ways to protect your operation
ARA Insurance Preferred Provider Catalina Avila, owner, Premier Insurance Brokers, Eastlake, Colo., agrees with the steps taken by Burnette and Jackson because “we are seeing a little bit of everything regarding thefts from yards: trailers and vehicles. We haven’t seen much theft from job sites,” she says.
As far as thefts from yards, “it is a hit-or-miss sort of thing,” Avila adds. “Oftentimes the vehicles go missing and then are abandoned. They are showing up a week or two later on a field or on the side of the road, etc. An officer finds it and sees that it has been sitting there for a while. Prior years, we had more smash-and-dash thefts. A lot of rental stores are becoming really good at knowing how to prevent these things, whether they are installing barricades, cameras, better security doors, alarms and all of that.”
Avila says she has had many conversations with her insured members who have been in business for a long time and haven’t had a lot claims. “Their No. 1 thing is to trust your gut. When someone comes in and it just doesn’t feel right, such as a person isn’t giving you good eye contact or hurrying you along, trust your gut and don’t be afraid to turn people away,” she says.
A few other suggestions she says rental operators should take include:
- Make sure you verify the two forms of ID. “If the employee has forgotten to check two forms of ID, making sure the credit card matches the driver’s license, that is when the owner will tell me that, ‘Sure enough, that piece of equipment went missing.’ Pay close attention and be sure to check this, especially when you are busy and in a hurry,” she says.
- Verify that the person who is paying for the equipment is also the one who is picking it up. “This goes along with matching the ID with the form of payment. A lot of my insured clients won’t complete the rental if the person who pays is not the same person who picks up the equipment,” she says.
- Put GPS on your equipment. “Absolutely this is important. The advantages are twofold. The GPS allows you to know where the machine is at and it allows you to track when it needs service. With the time it takes to replace equipment now, you need to do everything you can to protect your equipment,” she says.
- Register your equipment on the NER database. “Doing so gives you a better chance to recover your equipment if it is stolen,” she says.
- Make sure you have a signed rental contract and go over your customer’s responsibility for the care of your equipment. “When the customer signs the rental contract, make sure they understand the risk. Have that conversation at the time of rental. Your customers need to understand their financial responsibility when they take your equipment. For instance, if the equipment is going to a job site, make sure your customer knows they need to secure the site and take extra precautions when that equipment is in their care. It if goes missing, they will be held responsible for it,” she says.
- Have cameras installed to get a photo of the renter and the vehicle. “Most rental operators have installed them so they can go back and look at the video to see the plate on the vehicle and such if something happens,” Avila says.
Some additional measures suggested by two-time NER/ARA Insurance Theft Award winner Detective Sgt. Jim Dietz with the Michigan State Police SCAR (Southwest Commercial Auto Recovery) Unit, Kalamazoo, Mich., include:
- Know the issues and theft trends in your area and throughout the U.S. “With fraud cases, some thieves are hiring homeless people to go into the rental operation and rent the equipment, using their real IDs. Pass this type of information on to your counter staff, train them on your policies and procedures as to what questions to ask, what documents to get, what red flags to be aware of and provide them a way out so if they have a gut feeling that something isn’t right they can come to you or another manager and have a way out to decline the rental,” Dietz says.
- Share with others incidents that happen at your operation. Dietz was involved in cases that involved a crime ring that hit stores throughout the Midwest and was instrumental in arresting the key leaders of this crime ring. “Notify the other rental operators — network with them to let them know that this just happened. If you turn a risky renter away, I guarantee they will go to another business and try to rent from that other rental operation down the road. Networking is huge as every rental operation is in this together. Just be aware of not giving out personal identification information by email. Sharing information is a must, though,” Dietz says.
- Get the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on renters’ vehicles. “They might swap the plates on rented vehicles, so getting the VIN from the windshield dash is good. Thieves usually don’t change that,” Dietz says.
- Get a thumbprint on the contract. “I think this is a good step,” Dietz says, adding that refusal to do so could be considered a red flag.
All interviewed agree that it takes a multilayered approach when it comes to preventing theft. Any steps a rental operator can take to make theft harder to accomplish the better. “If we can prevent it from happening to begin with, that is the best way to go,” Dietz says.