Commercial theft is not only growing, but for markets contracting after Covid-19, it is even more damaging. The majority of serious thefts are conducted by career criminals, but the Covid-19 lockdown affected them too, closing access to their markets and making them conspicuous on the roads. Now the lockdown is lifting, they will be as eager as anyone to make up for lost time.
Research from the Allianz Cornhill Insurance group reveals that claims arising from plant theft grew steadily between 2013 and 2017 and are believed to have continued rising since. Agricultural, construction and manufacturing sectors are all hit hard by the loss of major items of equipment: not only are the items themselves expensive, but their loss entails downtime, leasing replacement equipment and higher insurance premiums. Unwary victims have been known to make quick purchases of replacement vehicles only to discover that they too are stolen, leased or still on HP.
Break-ins also cause substantial collateral damage to gates, fences and garage doors. Just before Christmas 2017, a stolen Manitou digger was used to smash an ATM out of a station wall in Haslemere, leaving the station building unsafe. In many cases, the damage done by thieves seems to be purely senseless.
Most thieves are not nice people as evidenced by the 80,000 face masks and other medical PPE stolen from a Salford warehouse in May. The haul, valued at £166,000, was on its way to NHS hospitals and old people’s homes in West Yorkshire, an area with high Covid-19 fatalities among patients and medical staff. To reach the PPE, the thieves cut a hole in expensive steel security doors, probably with stolen cutting equipment.
Popular targets range from small electrical tools up to tractors, trailers, excavators and bulldozers. Fuel tanks, metals, roofing materials, aggregates and livestock are also popular. Immobilising vehicles only provides partial defence; some are simply stripped of valuable spares where they stand.
Different kinds of theft present farms, factories, storage depots and building firms with a range of different problems. CCTV, intrusion systems, impregnable fencing and human security patrols are all highly expensive and none are fool-proof against specialist criminals. Drones are now popular on large farms, but even more expensive than the drone is the labour of its human operator. The rising rate of theft demonstrates that most technological solutions have been ineffective so far, and once stolen the chances of recovering machinery are less than 10%.
The first step all farmers, building contractors, plant managers and fleet owners should take is to register their Industrial vehicles and large static machinery on national databases such as TER (The Equipment Register ) or CESAR (The Construction & Agricultural Equipment Security and Registration Scheme ). Rather than relying solely on the equipment’s VRN or serial number, which thieves will try to erase, apply and record your own unique and discrete security markings.
The main point of registration is to recover property, but it also helps to trap and convict the thieves. Registration is also a deterrent. Many thieves will think twice about taking items that are dangerous to sell on, so display a warning.
Another strategy that works very well for both registered vehicles and shipments of bulk materials is tracking them with a new generation of smart devices.
Today, almost any electrical or battery-powered item can be connected wirelessly to the internet. Once connected, you can communicate with it from any smart-phone or convenient computer. Tracking is a simple application, but you can also use the IoT to monitor or control your devices remotely. A connected device can also be designed to send you an alert if it is moved or disturbed in a way that it shouldn’t be.
The most common targets for thieves are portable tools such as chainsaws and grinders, levels, theodolites, BIM and GPS equipment. Favourite vehicles include breakers, diggers and excavators, generators and compressors. Farmers need to remember their trailers, horseboxes and quadbikes. There are ways to connect almost all of these items into the IoT. You can also tag your cargoes with discrete recoverable connected devices that will report their movements in real-time as they are moved around the country, or even if they are shipped abroad.
The imminent introduction of 5G connections will greatly accelerate the rollout of cheap sophisticated IoT devices, so this is a great time to review your security strategy.