True accounts of recovered construction equipment and tips to protect your investments.
Construction equipment theft is a costly and disruptive issue resulting in $300 million to $1 billion in losses each year. Owners risk the loss of highly expensive construction equipment and the cost of business downtime.
Professional thieves usually steal construction equipment—they see this as a low-risk, high-reward proposition.
True Crime: Stories of Construction Equipment Theft
The stories below illustrate the vulnerability of construction equipment.
Aircraft Aids in Recovering $500,000 in Stolen Construction Equipment
On Feb. 1, 2012, workers arrived at a jobsite outside of Phoenix, Ariz., and discovered that a semi-truck and flatbed trailer loaded with two excavators had been stolen. Both excavators were equipped with a vehicle recovery system. The workers reported the crime to police, and the police entered the stolen equipment information into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) police computer, which automatically activated the transponder concealed in the equipment.
The next day, a California Highway Patrol airplane equipped with a police tracking computer began picking up the silent homing signal from the stolen excavators. The aircraft tracked the signal for 20 miles into Arizona, and the Arizona Auto Theft Task Force (RATTLER), received an alert. The task force followed the security system’s signals to a remote mining location southeast of Quartzsite, Ariz.
Detectives executed a search warrant, and with the assistance of several investigators from both California and Arizona, they recovered the following stolen equipment: two excavators, two water trucks, two trailers, a truck, a dump truck, a lowboy trailer, a loader, a light tower, a skid steer and a towable generator—the cost of this equipment combined was more than $500,000.
Assets Valued at $1.5 Million Recovered from Chicago Chop Shop
Earlier this year, a 1996 Caterpillar backhoe equipped with a vehicle recovery system was reported stolen from an unsecured construction site outside of Chicago, Ill. Within minutes after the report had been filed and the system automatically activated, officers from the Chicago Police Department began picking up the silent signal coming from the Caterpillar.
The signal led authorities to a warehouse where they discovered a bustling chop shop. They recovered 60 stolen cars, two motor homes, two tractors, six pieces of construction equipment and several motorcycles. The total value of the recovery was estimated at $1.5 million.
The Susceptibility of Construction Equipment
Construction equipment becomes an easy target for thieves because it is often left at unsecured sites during the evening or over a weekend. Site managers usually do not discover a theft that happens during the weekend.
Many sites are located in remote locations away from busy roads, making it easy for thieves to enter undetected. Not only do unsecured, remote sites make attractive targets for thieves, but the equipment itself is also easily accessible because of open cabs, and many have one key that fits all equipment.
Also, equipment owners often do not keep good records and maintain paper trails. To add to the issue, having a title and registration for each piece of equipment is not mandated. A lack of standardization for Product Identification Numbers (PINs) and Serial Numbers (S/Ns) makes it difficult to effectively track equipment back to owners. It is relatively easy for thieves to change the identity of a piece of equipment by removing or switching a PIN.
Because equipment does not have unique identifiers like vehicles (license plates), police may just be looking for a “yellow bulldozer.”
How to Protect Construction Equipment
Secure Your Site
Fence in the jobsite, and install security cameras and motion sensors. But this may not always be a practical option for all business owners. If this is not possible, equipment should be parked close together, preferably chained in a circle with smaller pieces in the center. Also, ask law enforcement to make frequent patrols, especially if the jobsite is located in a high-theft area.
Keep Good Records
Label all equipment with a unique product identification number in multiple places (some of the places should be easy to locate at first glance). Also, record the manufacturer, model number, year, PIN and purchase date along with serial numbers for all component parts.
Use Theft Deterrents and Proven Recovery Systems
Use immobilization devices, such as wheel locks, fuel shut-offs, ignition locks and battery-disconnect switches as possible deterrents. Unfortunately, if professional thieves target specific equipment, they can generally get around these deterrents. Use a proven tracking/recovery system that offers time-tested tracking technology and integrates with police so that the recovery will be in the hands of law enforcement.
Sophisticated thieves will persist in finding ways to steal easy targets. Construction owners must become even more vigilant in their efforts to protect their investments from the costly and ongoing problem of equipment theft.
Results from LoJack’s 12th Annual Construction Equipment Theft Study
Light utility/work trucks, trailers, backhoes, wheel loaders, track loaders, skid steers, generators and air compressors represented 86 percent of all construction equipment recoveries documented by LoJack in 2011. Fifty-eight percent of the equipment stolen and recovered was five years old or less, and 75 percent was recovered in 24 hours or less after being reported to the police. Seven percent of the equipment was recovered in less than one hour.