Keeping Equipment off the Underground Market

Off-road equipment theft is a growing problem in the U.S. There are many precautions equipment owners can take to discourage thieves and improve their chances of getting their equipment back if it is stolen.

Ditch Witch4

By Jeri Lamerton

Off-road equipment theft is a growing problem in the U.S. There are many precautions equipment owners can take to discourage thieves and improve their chances of getting their equipment back if it is stolen.

Ditch Witch4

Prevention and Information are the Keys

National surveys estimate the annual total cost of stolen equipment in the U.S. at $1 billion. In 2010, only 19 percent of that stolen equipment was recovered. In contrast, 56 percent of stolen automobiles were recovered.

Why? Stolen off-road equipment is difficult to investigate for several reasons. One, the average law-enforcement officer does not have the technical knowledge to investigate equipment suspected as stolen-he or she doesn't know a trencher from a skid steer. In addition, there is no centralized number system for construction equipment, such as the vehicle identification number (VIN) for automobiles, so acquiring information to investigate is not easy.

It's getting easier, however, because of organizations such as National Equipment Register (NER), which was founded in 2001 to increase the recovery rate of stolen equipment. Funded by the insurance industry, NER has partnerships with key industry groups and resources to centralize information on equipment theft and ownership. By calling NER's 24-hour, toll-free number (866-663-7872), officers can request a search of NER's theft and ownership databases and receive assistance in identifying equipment.

Global positioning system (GPS) and other tracking units are also improving the equipment recovery process. These devices emit tracking signals to users and/or law enforcement agencies, allowing for an almost immediate location and recovery of stolen equipment.

Outfitting equipment with GPS also allows users to better manage a vehicle fleet. The collected data can give detailed information on operating times, speeds, routes traveled, maintenance needs and amount of time spent on location.

Ditch Witch1

What you can Do

Preventing theft from occurring is easier than trying to recover stolen equipment. Here are crime-prevention steps you should take with all of your equipment, large or small:

Mark It
• Mark your equipment and moveable property.
• Use an approved identification system:
1. Place driver's license number of the principal of the firm preceded by the initials of your state.
2. Place owner applied number (OAN), a 10-digit code assigned by a law-enforcement agency.
3. Place numbers in two spots: hidden and obvious; make a record of these locations.
4. For machinery with cabs, paint the last six digits of the product identification number (PIN) on the roof.
5. Paint the roof a distinctive color and inscribe PINs, OANs or other serial numbers in large, easily visible characters; if it is more likely to be noticed, it is less likely to be stolen.

Ditch Witch2

Record It
• Keep records of the serial numbers on equipment.
• Take color photos of your equipment.
• Register your equipment with NER or a similar agency.

Protect It
• Don't leave equipment in remote areas.
• Inventory equipment frequently.
• Paint equipment a distinctive color; include your name/logo.
• Install fuel cutoffs, hydraulic bypasses, track locks or alarms.
• Improve site security with sturdy fences and gates, no trespassing signs and good lighting.

Ditch Witch3

Track It
• Outfit equipment with a GPS device to speed up the recovery process if stolen.
• Manage equipment fleet and operators by monitoring data given by the GPS service.

In Case of Theft
• Notify law enforcement immediately.
• Notify local equipment dealers. They can circulate stolen equipment bulletins.
• Submit stolen equipment information to NER and other similar sites; these databases provide information to law enforcement nationwide.

What's Your Risk Factor?

Based on more than 13,000 theft reports submitted in 2010 (most recent statistics available from NER), thefts most often occurred in these 10 states, ranked in order:

1. Texas
2. Florida
3. North Carolina
4. Georgia
5. South Carolina
6. California
7. Tennessee
8. Oklahoma
9. Alabama
10. Ohio

Stolen Equipment: 2010

Mower (riding/garden) 47%
Loaders 18%
Tractors (wheeled/tracked) 13%
Others 13%
Fork Lift 3%
Excavator 2%
Generator/compressor/welder 2%
Bulldozer 1%
Trencher 1%
Brush chipper 1%

More in Vehicles & Accessories