LoJack Study Shows Equipment Theft Rising

By Paul Fournier | September 28, 2010

Is your equipment secure from thieves?

Equipment chop shops and theft rings are on the rise throughout the U.S. including here in New England, according to a recent study by Westwood, Mass.- based LoJack Corporation.

The company, which markets its LoJack Stolen Vehicle Recovery System globally, recently completed the construction equipment theft study that revealed more than $18.6 million in stolen construction equipment assets were recovered by its system in 2006, up more than 18 percent from 2005. Since 2000, says the company, its system has recovered nearly $70 million in stolen construction equipment.

This latest study shows that the number of professional theft rings rose again in 2006, with law enforcement discovering 14 theft rings and chop shops (versus 11 in 2005) through tracking and recovering stolen equipment that was equipped with the silent recovery system. Through these discoveries, police recovered more than $3 million in additional stolen assets that were not so-equipped.

Nationally, thieves now cost construction companies up to $1 billion per year in lost assets, according to The National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Not surprisingly, the study found that popular equipment makes popular theft targets. In addition, newer equipment on the job site is the most common theft target because of higher resale value. The types of equipment most frequently stolen are, in order:

  • Backhoe loaders, skip loaders, wheel loaders
  • Skid steers
  • Generators, air compressors, welders
  • Forklifts and scissor lifts
  • Light towers
  • Light utility/work trucks
  • Trailers

These equipment types represented more than 70 percent of all construction equipment recoveries documented by the company in 2006. More than 73 percent of the equipment stolen and recovered was five years old or less.

In New England, a number of stolen pieces of equipment equipped with the LoJack system were recovered, among them a Wacker RD11 roller compactor worth $11,250, stolen in Connecticut and recovered in less than 3 hours; and an Allmand TLB425 backhoe loader worth $29,000, stolen in Rhode Island and recovered in less than four days. Equipment stolen in Massachusetts included: an Ingersoll-Rand S220 skid steer worth $23,750, recovered in a little more than three days; a Ford 550 Carry-All worth $28,000, recovered in about 1-1/2 hours; and a Takeuchi TB016 mini-excavator worth $33,000, recovered in three days.

An account of the Takeuchi recovery provided by the Westwood company provides some insight into the modus operandi of thieves:

The last time the rented mini-excavator was seen was at a construction site in Hanover, Mass. On September 29, 2006, it was reported stolen. Apparently, sometime the previous night, someone drove it around the fence that enclosed the work site, loaded it into a truck or trailer and drove away with it. The Hanover Police entered the equipment information into the state and national computer database, which automatically activated the Stolen Vehicle Recovery System hidden on the excavator.

A few days later a Massachusetts State Police helicopter flying over the South Shore area picked up the silent signal near Nantasket Beach in Hull. Members of the Governor's Auto Theft Unit responded to the area and picked up the signal on their tracking computers. They tracked the signal to a garage and auto body shop and located the excavator under a couple of small trees and between junk cars.

After an investigation was conducted at the scene, one suspect was arrested. The investigation is continuing with the possibility of more suspects being uncovered. Meanwhile, the mini-excavator was towed from the scene for safekeeping and made available for retrieval by the rental company.

Another finding of the study: Construction theft is a local issue. In 98 percent of the cases, the stolen equipment was recovered in the same state in which the theft was reported. It was either in a storage facility or in use on a local job site. Unlike auto theft, which has a higher incidence in major cities around the country, construction theft is not confined to city streets and urban areas. Rather, it is often located in suburban areas where construction growth is high.

The company has some tips for contractors and others in the industry on how to protect their equipment:

Keep Good Records

Label all equipment with unique identifying numbers, including Product Identification Numbers (PIN) and Owner Applied Number (OAN), and consider marking the numbers in multiple locations on equipment. In addition, keep accurate inventory records including manufacturer, model number, year, PIN, and purchase date for each piece of equipment and serial numbers of major component parts. Also, consider registering equipment with a national database.

Focus on Physical Site Security

When possible, fence in equipment, park them close together in a circle with smaller pieces in the center, and chain small equipment to larger equipment. And communicate with law enforcement, requesting more frequent patrols, especially in known high-theft areas.

Use Theft Deterrents and Proven Recovery Systems

Use immobilization devices such as wheel locks, fuel shut-offs or ignition locks, and consider installing battery-disconnect switches. And finally, use a proven tracking/recovery system that is integrated with police so that recovery is in the hands of the law.

In commenting on the growing problem of construction equipment theft, Richard T. Riley, LoJack's chairman and CEO, said "Professional thieves see construction theft as a low-risk, high-reward theft opportunity.

"Typically, the risk of being caught is low because equipment is difficult to trace and is often located on remote, unsecured job sites. Since construction equipment carries a hefty price tag, the rewards for thieves are high. That's precisely why equipment owners need to have a solid action plan to protect their equipment and their businesses from theft."