One of the most frustrating and annoying thefts is that of having your tools stolen. Not only are you losing your precious and prized tools, but you are also having your livelihood put on hold and or even at risk. Despicable as it is, the thieves seem to have no qualms about preventing a fellow man from going about his work and providing for his family.
Figures reveal that van tool theft alone in the UK has become so big an issue that it is estimated that a van is broken into every 23 minutes. UK tool theft has rocketed up by over 30% in the last year and the police estimated figures are placing the increase at nearly two thirds in two years. In 2014/15 there were 14,063 reported tool thefts and this number had risen to 22,749 in the year 2016/17. Insurance companies are reporting a near 40% increase over two years with the value of claims increasing by 32%. The problem has become so large that a Parliamentary Petition was raised in 2018 with over 40,000 signatures raising the awareness. A Facebook site called Tradesman Against Thieves is a good source of useful local knowledge and worth a look if you want to engage with social media posts.
The team behind Commusoft have produced a great list of handy tips and hints for reducing the risk of the theft of your tools. If you can't prevent thieves from breaking into your van, the next best thing is to dissuade them from trying, or at least slow them down. Here's what the experts recommend.
- Know the hot times
While you should always keep your van as secure as possible, it's good to be aware of when your van's most likely to be targeted. Tool theft tends to peak in the months leading up to Christmas. Service vans packed with expensive equipment are everywhere, ripe for the picking and the shorter daylight hours give thieves more time to do their dirty work under cover of darkness. The insurers Simply Business also report that most break-ins occur on Mondays, and say that the month of July is also when thieves are most active.
- Make your security visible
Many plumbers, electricians, HVAC engineers, and other field service businesses see security as a double-edged sword. If you put on a big lock, you're telling thieves that there's something of value in there, which makes your van more of a target. Our experts suggest that while no locks are 100% unbreakable, you should have them anyway and the bigger and more visible, the better. While burglars are looking for expensive tools, they also put a priority on vans that look like easy targets. Extra locks, especially if they're big, hefty-looking locks on the outside of the doors, can cause potential thieves to have second thoughts about breaking into your van.
- Get the right kinds of signs
Tradespeople have the same issue with van signage that they do with tools: If you brand your service van, thieves will know exactly what's in there; for example, they know what kind of haul they're likely get from a plumbing van versus an HVAC van. But if you don't brand your van, you miss out on the opportunity to promote your business to passers-by. But if you do need to bring in new customers, don't let the fear of tool theft keep you from attracting jobs through smart branding. Then there are those signs that declare 'No tools in van', which some tradespeople hope will keep thieves at bay and eliminate the need for pricey security measures. Bad idea: If you rely on a 'no tools' sign as your only means of security, it takes thieves just a few minutes to call your bluff by popping open the door to see if that's really the case.
- Remove the tools from your van
Take the tools out of your van is the recommended approach. At the end of the day, if you're a working tradesman, you may not want to lug tools in and out of the house every night, but consider the trade-off.
- Get physical
The more high tech your security, the easier it is to break into. Keyless lock codes can easily be hacked, for example, and thieves can use wireless transmitters to intercept and copy the signal from your keyless fob … no physical labour required! Physical barriers to theft are both more visible and harder to get past. Even better, combine various security measures to make thieves' lives difficult, such as different types of locks and an alarm. You want to make it as tricky, noisy, and time-consuming as possible for would-be thieves to ransack vans. Be sure to mark your tools in a visible place and also somewhere hard to find. That way, even if the thief sands down your engraving or peels off your electrical tape, you can still prove the tools are yours if they're recovered by the police.
- Lock up your most valuable tools
If you have something of high value, have lockable storage in the van. For example, your £2,000 gas analyser should be locked away in a case inside the van. Again, it's all about slowing thieves down and making your van a more difficult target than the one down the street.
- Talk to the experts
Should you use wrap locks, slam locks, tool safes? What about a motion sensor alarm that alerts your smartphone to break-ins? And what if you live in an area with low crime … are all these precautions worth the expense? The sales staff at companies that sell van security products should be able to answer your questions and help you decide on the best course of action for your business, your budget, and your location.
- Get involved
All those petitions, groups, and social media accounts we talked about earlier? They're for you, too. Sign the petitions, join the groups, offer your advice, and share reports of stolen tools or vehicles so your fellow tradespeople can keep an eye out.
- Track your van
There have been cases of thieves stealing vans so they can unload the tools at their leisure, and possibly fence the van as well. (That's another advantage to having signage on your van—it makes it harder to steal.) Installing a real-time vehicle tracking system can help you recover your van if it's stolen, tools and all.
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