Stolen Equipment: How To Prevent Equipment Theft

10 min

One of the biggest problems plaguing businesses is stolen equipment.

Insurance Service Offices (ISO) shows that there has been an increase of 20% in equipment theft since 1996. 

Thefts put the whole company in jeopardy. All major industries such as education, IT, construction, manufacturing, and many more are affected by stolen equipment.

Because of equipment theft, companies lose time and resources. 

Why Is The Equipment Stolen? 

There are many reasons why someone would steal your work equipment. If there is a great opportunity for theft with little to no consequences, that makes a perfect ground for assets to go missing.

High Pay Off 

The reward of selling the stolen piece is often higher than the risk associated with stealing it. Large construction equipment can be broken down into smaller pieces making it indistinguishable and easily sold to the highest bidders.

Engine-powered, large-sized equipment sells between $10,000 to $50,000. And many times, the stolen equipment is sold for a higher price than original in the black market. 

Little Or No Identification

Heavy equipment is valuable, easy to sell, and it requires more security than small size items. For example, construction equipment doesn’t have the same anti-theft measures as registered motor vehicles. 

They don’t have a vehicle identification number or serial numbers that help identify it. And without a serial number, you cannot confirm that the stolen machine is yours. 

Additionally, thieves tend to remove registration numbers whenever they can. And when registration numbers are not mandated, it makes identification more difficult. 

Low Recovery Rates

According to risk managers and insurers, companies only recover about 10-20 percent of the stolen equipment. 

Here’s a statistics table to show the difference between stolen and recovered equipment statistics (As per NER for the year 2016). 

equipment theft stats table

Low recovery rates are not the only thing that disappoints affected businesses. Not every recovery results in an arrest, and let alone conviction. There is no guarantee that the thief will not steal again when the opportunity arises.

These facts mean that companies should rely more on prevention, and invest more effort into it, instead of hoping that they will recover stolen items.

No Equipment Records

Record keeping is often poor within companies. Sometimes even identifying equipment becomes a colossal task. 

Especially in big manufacturing companies, where every worker is issued new tools daily, record keeping becomes an immense hustle. Records are inaccurate, and this further leads to lax in standards about equipment security.

Thieves Are Using Smart Tricks

You may have adequate security, but keep in mind that thieves also use clever methods to steal your devices and equipment.

There have been occurrences of thieves posing as customers/employees to issue manufacturing equipment out of the warehouse.  

Industries Most Affected By Equipment Theft 

If you think “it won’t happen to me”, don’t be so sure. Almost all industries have experienced having their equipment stolen.  

Construction

Construction is one of the most plagued industries in terms of theft. In the US, around $300 million – $1 billion of construction equipment is stolen every year. 

And according to NICB, companies recover only 10% of it. Most heavy equipment is left unattended on a construction site and gets started by a single key. 

The absence of a global serial database makes it more difficult to track equipment when it’s stolen. Other risks contribute to such high theft rates, such as organized crime, loose fences and gates on sites, and no custom theft defense. 

Manufacturing

Manufacturers are also heavily affected by equipment theft.

Manufacturing tools are one of the most common things that go missing. Examination equipment, radios, small tools (marked and unmarked) all go frequently missing. 

theft in manufacturing

Larger equipment like towing trucks, loaders, and others are not necessarily harder to steal, but they are harder to replace. Losing them inconveniences the whole team and significantly slows operations. 

IT & Office Based Industry

Businesses today pay more attention to digital data security but very few of them make sure that their physical setups are equally secure.

According to IDC 201 research, 84% of IT companies have reported equipment theft, with only a 3% recovery rate. 

Laptops, hard drives, chargers, keyboards, and stationary are all examples of equipment that people steal from offices.

Consequently, office managers have to order around 20% more than required to account for missing office supplies, which hemorrhages the company’s budget. 

Apart from the standard office supplies such as papers or staplers, people are stealing even things like light bulbs, tissue papers, and food.

Around 52% of employees have admitted that they have taken something from their office. 

Other Industries

The aforementioned industries are not the only ones that are combating theft.

Renting companies take their toll as well. For example, companies that rent fishing equipment also get their stuff stolen. Scottsboro reported a guy who had taken thousands of dollars of fishing equipment.

On another hand, Wilmington reported about two guys who have stolen chainsaws, leaf blowers, and weed eaters worth thousands of dollars. 

Now that you know the devastating numbers about equipment theft, you understand why it is important to stop it from happening.

Four Preventive Measures You Can Take 

Prevention is the best medicine”—as the old proverb goes.

Speaking of theft prevention, there are different aspects of securing your assets. 

Some are technical, some require better management. We will cover them all so you can detect the best solution for your business.

#1 Secure Your Worksite

Securing your worksite mainly means adding physical barriers and measures that make stealing difficult or impossible. Here are some ways you can secure your worksite.

Add warning signs: In your workplace/warehouse/office, you can post warning signs that say, “No trespassing” or “restricted access-please use ID to enter.” Although this will not necessarily stop a determined thief, it does send a clear message. 

Set barriers: Setting up physical boundaries around your workplace can be very effective. For example, construction sites should always be secured with tall fences. 

Make it high enough so that thieves can’t jump above it. You should also do routine inspections and repairs.

construction site theft

IT companies can consider having secured, locked rooms with limited access, or areas where employees can enter only through swiping ID cards. Install alarms to know whenever someone with the wrong access tries to enter the workspace.

Secure the gates: With the right security, the only way someone can take your equipment is through your front gate. Ensure that those gates are strong so that no one could force their way in. Use case hardened chains and strong padlocks with latches.

Alternatively, you can set gauge protectors and panel locks for extra security. 

Keep a central database: Keep a database with serial numbers of all your equipment and assets, including computers, desk phones, field machines, tools, etc. Regularly maintain and back up that data to ensure business continuity at all times.

Leverage good lighting: Offices should have some light on during the off-hours, and the construction site should be well lit during the night. Light deters thieves from stealing equipment as they are easily seen. This is why you can see many grocery stores having their lights turned on even when they are closed. 

Make a security plan: Make a worksite security plan and conduct a security audit to see where are the biggest safety gaps. For extra security, use motion detection, and Install video cameras. Cameras are not as expensive as they were and today even small businesses can afford a wireless camera that adds another level of safety. 

stolen equipment

List all employees who have access to tools and keep the list handy. Log all visitors coming in and out of the workplace using visitor ID cards. 

You can also work with local police by letting them know about your work schedule so that if there is any suspicious activity going on at odd times, they can take steps to prevent it. 

#2 Secure Your Equipment 

Sometimes you don’t have to secure the whole worksite but just one device or piece of equipment.

That can be your most valuable asset, like a heavy truck or the main computer. Securing one item is usually cheaper and easier to manage than securing the whole worksite. 

Here’s how you can secure your equipment.

Equipment marking: Make Sure that PIN (product identification number), model number, purchase year and other information are clearly visible on your device. Manufacturers usually use etching tools, dye-stamping, or a steel punch to make sure that the product ID stays visible for years to come.

Immobilizing: Consider physically immobilizing your equipment so that no one other than you or authorized person can use it. That works especially for middle or big sized vehicles like trucks, mowers or mixers. 

You can chain them, lock their tires, install drive control locks, lock the trailer hitches, and use similar immobilization methods. 

To secure office equipment like desktops you can use tethers. Laptops can be secured by cable lock that fixes it to a stationary object. You can also use systems like Compucage, Intel Anti-Theft Technology and other specialized systems for the physical security of your workstations. 

Removing the battery from your devices will prevent usage, although it might not prevent theft.

Count your inventory: Ensure that all equipment is returned safely at the end of the day. Don’t let contractors leave home without returning your tools. 

Put all the equipment in one place as it will be easier to detect what might be missing. Secure and lock all small tools in a container. Ideally, you will assign a supervisor to keep track of all physical inventory. Make sure that they know how to report any missing material as soon as possible. 

Security Key: Most companies use standard keys for operating their equipment. Make sure that key use is regulated within your company, and the key is removed from the vehicle when not in use. Checklists can help with that, as they can make drivers hand in the key and detect if someone accidentally left the key inside the vehicle.  

Also, keep a log of who’s using the vehicle and prevent employees from using the manufacturer’s key—a key that works on more than one vehicle. 

#3 Having Clear Instructions for People

Along with physical security, invest in employee training regarding equipment protection.

A well-managed safety policy, along with honest employees go a long way in securing equipment and stopping robberies before they happen. 

Put theft prevention as a part of the work policy and employment contract. Your workforce should have a responsibility toward company’s assets and prevent theft, not cause it. 

Therefore, background checks on new hires are recommended. 

You can arrange an anonymous tip box or some other way that encourages people to inform on suspicious individuals. If a tool gets stolen, you can set a reward system for anyone who brings information about it and helps return it back. 

While you don’t necessarily need to reward employees for simply adhering to work policies, make sure to follow through with penalties for breaking the work guidelines, especially theft. 

Clearly inform your employees about the consequences and all legal and physical actions that would be taken if found guilty of equipment theft. 

#4 Use Technology For Detailed And Accurate Records 

Good management of your company’s inventory is irreplaceable for both theft prevention and equipment retrieval. 

Keeping accurate inventory records increases the chances of quickly recovering equipment. 

construction theft infographic

You can also use these records in the police complaint if the theft occurs. 

Store data such as:

  • location
  • the person it’s assigned to 
  • expected return
  • manufacturer
  • equipment ID number 
  • model name
  • engine number

If possible, register your tools with the national database.

Overall, technology made quite a leap in smart equipment management. There are many solutions that you can use to protect your equipment. 

For example: 

  • GPS tracking: You can put a GPS tracking chip on your tool and track its location with the app on your smartphone. 
  • Microscopic labeling: Thieves learned how to remove the identification from stolen things. To counter that, there are microscopic labels you can add to your equipment. They have a unique code imprinted in them that can be registered in the national database. It will help in speedy recovery and will also help in claiming insurance. 
  • Smart padlocks: If you have too many keys, you can use a smart lock that opens and closes through an app installed on your phone. Master Lock and Airbolt are some of the custom solutions that make your belongings secured, and free you from carrying all keys around with you.

What If Your Equipment Gets Stolen Anyway? 

Here are some steps that you can take.

  1. Alert the authorities as soon as possible: If you do it quickly enough, there’s a good chance that you can recover your tool as most stolen tools are found within 100 miles of the site of stealing. 
  2. Register your complaint with all the details: You can use the same report to claim your insurance if your equipment is insured.
  3. Include all info about the missing asset: PIN, manufacturer, model, size, color. If you have any photos, you can attach them too.
  4. If it’s a costly tool, consider offering a reward.  

Managing your assets well will help you quickly realize whether something is missing and act upon it on time. However, that doesn’t guarantee faster recovery, as there are some challenges in recovering stolen equipment.

Challenge One: Time From Theft To Theft Discovery

People tend to steal stuff over the weekend which causes problems. It’s more challenging to track equipment stealing after the weekend than after a weekday.

In a scenario where hundreds of tools are issued daily, the stolen equipment may not be discovered for weeks or months.

It creates a tracking problem as movement and resale of the tool is mostly done within the first ten days. 

Challenge Two: Not Enough Data

Insufficient data related to stolen equipment prevents successful tracking as there is no mandated registration system like there is for cars. 

Recognizing the stolen item presents another difficulty in the investigation. Thieves remove serial numbers and other identity markers from the stolen hardware. And without a serial number, it is hard to prove that the item really belonged to you. 

Most people won’t be able to tell the difference between a stolen laptop and a second-hand laptop.

Also, theft of equipment is mostly considered a victimless crime. Thus, authorities may not dedicate sufficient resources and time to it. 

To Sum Up

If you don’t want to be a part of the theft statistics, put equipment theft prevention on top of your To-do list.

The first step is to do a business audit to understand where you’re lacking on equipment security. Use technology and common sense to create a solution that will mitigate thefts and preserve your bottom line.

The behavior of your employees is an important factor in reducing equipment theft and a part of good risk management.

If you make sure to take steps in the right direction, you can significantly reduce downtime as well as equipment replacement costs.  

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