Combined Industry Theft Solutions
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July 2016




There are a number of ways in which machines can be stolen, from an opportunistic thief taking a ‘joy-ride’ in a digger to specific equipment being ‘stolen to order’ for export. As equipment security has improved professional thieves have developed new scams including ‘hire to steal’ which has caught out several major plant hirers in the last few months.

‘Hire to steal’ involves professional thieves hiring expensive equipment, from reputable hirers, with the intent to steal them during the hire period and ship them abroad. To add another layer of complexity to the scam, and buy themselves extra time, thieves arrange the ‘cross-hire’ of machines from one hire company to another. Hiring the target machines gives the thieves time to search for and remove tracking devices and CESAR plates before they are shipped to their final destination and new ‘owners’, well before the rightful owners realise that the machines are missing.

In late May a major hirer, and long-time CanTrack customer, was the victim of a sophisticated ‘hire to steal’ scam involving 5 telehandlers, a mix of JCB and Manitou models all CESAR registered. The thieves used a dummy company to hire the 5 machines. When the hire ended and the hirer went to collect the machines they were gone, and so was the hirer. Fortunately, all 5 machines were fitted with CanTrack supplied AppelloGEO tracking devices.
As soon as the theft was reported to CanTrack, at 19.00 on a Wednesday, the team got straight to work, sending activation messages to the machine’s trackers and obtaining accurate current locations. As the trackers woke-up and confirmed their locations it was clear that they were widely distributed. The first unit to wake was relatively close, in Waltham Abbey, adjacent to the M25. A CanTrack investigator was immediately despatched and he tracked the unit to an industrial area in the town. Unfortunately, at 2 a.m. the CanTrack investigator was unable to legally access the machine and so he had to wait until 8 a.m. the next morning (Thursday) to meet with Thames Valley Police on-site. The AppelloGEO homing beacon led the investigator and the police to the stolen telehandler, which was safely and swiftly recovered by the police less than 13 hours after it was first reported as stolen.
During the Waltham Abbey operation 2 other tracking units woke up in their stolen machines and ‘pinged’ their location. The 2 stolen telehandlers were in the same location. However, that was the Turkish/Syrian border! Clearly as the machines were now in one of the most troubled spots on the planet it precluded any further, safe investigation.

The 4th AppelloGEO gave its location as Austria and it appeared to be parked-up. The 5th and final tracking unit remained silent? A second CanTrack investigator joined the case and was immediately put on a plane to Graz in Austria. By the time the investigator touched down in Austria the stolen machine was tracked and on the move, apparently on a train travelling from Saltzburg towards Slovenia. After consultation with CanTrack’s office staff the investigator was directed to travel to the town of Villach in Western Austria as the train line passed the town. He arrived there close to midnight on a Thursday, 29 hours after the machines were reported as stolen. After a short night’s rest, the investigator was told that the stolen telehandler was now in Italy near Monfalcone, 150 kilometres from his location but still on the train. A couple of hours later it was established that the machine was stationary in the Port of Trieste, North West Italy. The investigator was immediately sent to the port in the hope of finding the machine before it was loaded onto a ship. As the investigator made his way to Trieste, by road, CanTrack’s team in the UK requested local police and customs assistance in the docks area. On arriving at the appropriate gate into the port CanTracks’ investigator was met by numerous Italian police officers. They advised him that several ships are being loaded and they identify a handful of trucks which they think may be involved in moving the stolen machine. CanTrack’s investigator and the police searched the large docks parking area and eventually picked up a strong tracking signal emanating from a trailer on a train. The Italian police officers opened the trailer and found the stolen machine emitting the tracking signal. Also in the trailer was the 5th stolen telehandler, a Manitou, whose AppelloGEO was subsequently found to have a flat battery. Also in the trailer were two stolen Genie scissor lifts that had also been involved in the hire to steal scam. All 4 stolen assets were recovered by the Italian police, and with the help of Datatag and the CESAR Scheme which inequitably identifies the provenance of the stolen telehandlers, they are being processed for return to the UK and ultimately their rightful owners.

This is a relatively complicated story but it illustrates 3 things:

  • Firstly, professional thieves are increasingly sophisticated and they work in complex international networks. Equipment theft is inextricably linked to other serious crimes including drug, arms and people smuggling.
  • Secondly, a mix of security marking and registration and covert tracking devices significantly increases the likelihood of recovery post theft.
  • Thirdly, add effective investigation and international co-operation into the mix and legitimate businesses stand a chance against parasitic organised criminals.

CanTrack’s management team work with other like-minded individuals from the Construction Plant Association (CPA), the machine manufacturers trade body the Construction Equipment Association (CEA), Combined Industries Theft Solutions (CITS) and the Metropolitan Police’s PANIU team to increase the effectiveness of the construction industry’s response to opportunistic and organised fraud and theft.