Think Like a Thief

Tips to Protect Yourself From Costly Losses

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Photo by Jim Patrico

Rural crime costs farmers and their insurance companies more than $5 billion a year. Popular targets for theft are livestock, timber, saddles and tack, chemicals and fertilizer. Equipment tops the wish list for enterprising thieves. There is a rich market for stolen equipment in the United States, Mexico and even overseas in places such as Eastern Europe. Farm- and construction-equipment theft is a $330-million to $1-billion-a-year headache. Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas account for 41% of all thefts. Those five states, plus Arkansas, California, Indiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee, account for 62% of equipment thefts.

Much of the stolen equipment stays within 100 miles of the theft, and yet the recovery rate of the 11,625 pieces of equipment stolen in 2014 was only 23%.

The theft of equipment is only the beginning of problems for an owner. Next to come is an increase in insurance rates -- or the policy is cancelled. Worse, it is not uncommon to be hit by thieves more than once.

The best prevention against theft is to think like a thief. If you can figure out how to steal equipment, it will be even easier for them. And, mark your equipment.


There is no security plan that is thief-proof. But time is no friend of the thief. The main theme of your security plan should be to make theft time-consuming so success is less likely. If a thief has to break out a torch to cut a chain or lock, time is not on his side.

It's important to photograph equipment and record any unique characteristics (such as the locations of repairs or modifications, even dents and missing components). Record all serial numbers, including those on implements, radios, monitors and GPS equipment.


Engrave your own ID number onto remote places on the equipment, such as under the battery or on the dipsticks. Paint some portion of the equipment -- the cab's roof or inside of a wheel -- a bright color. An identification mark painted onto the roof of a cab can help law enforcement identify stolen equipment from the air.

It is important to notify your equipment dealer about a theft. He can watch for stolen equipment that may arrive at his lot or at other dealer lots. He also may have a procedure for reporting thefts to the manufacturer that may be able to provide a "build record" with all the serial numbers stamped onto parts.

A good farm-security plan is one built in zones. Here are four zones important to any security plan.


The ring of security around your land begins at the legal edge of your property line. It is the place to build fences and construct barriers to natural exits.

-- Post "No Trespassing" signs around your property. Signs may not deter crime, but they do announce the legal peril an intruder faces.

-- Check fences often for cuts and breaks.

-- Secure gates with hard-to-cut chains and heavy-duty locks. Know who has access to all the keys.

-- Use natural terrain to enhance security. Build berms along drainage ditches to block access. Cut ditches across open areas. Block natural exits from fields with gates, concrete barriers, railroad ties or sections of utility poles.

-- Know exactly where your property lines lie, especially when you're working with loggers. They—and you—need to know where your trees end and an adjacent owner's trees begin.


Remote fields are favorite targets of thieves. An important part of your layered defense is your neighbor. If equipment and animals can't be seen from your home, look for ways to bring them into view of your neighbor.

Other theft-prevention strategies for remote locations:

-- Remove all keys from equipment, and lock the doors.

-- Remove the fuse to a critical operating system on a piece of machinery at the end of the day.

-- Install a fuel line shutoff in a remote location.

-- Lower implements to the ground to prevent towing, but keep the transport wheels on the ground to deter tire thieves.

-- Park multiple pieces of equipment in a tight circle, putting the smaller pieces inside. You may want to chain and lock together multiple pieces of equipment.

-- Consider installing tracking devices that can be activated by radio signal.

-- Ask your sheriff's department about the Owner Applied Number program. This is an ID program developed by the FBI to track stolen equipment.


A growing crime problem in rural America is identity theft. Unsecured mailboxes on isolated posts contain mail -- checks, credit card bills and credit offers -- and are tempting to thieves, as are unattended offices and homes. Here are some ways to protect your identity.

-- If you can't purchase a post office box, collect mail every day. Don't use your mailbox to send mail. The red flag on the box is an invitation to theft.

-- Keep your home and shop locked when no one is home. Lock all file cabinets.

-- Shred expired credit cards, credit card offers, bills and other financial documents not important to your records. Or, create a "burn bag" in which this mail is placed and routinely burned with other burnables around the farm.

-- Don't leave electronic devices in plain view on the seat of your pickup.

-- Check your credit reports at least once a year.


Secure the farm's central work area -- barns, workshops, storage areas and other outbuildings.

-- Talk to your sheriff's department about the best places to install lights and motion detectors.

-- Be sure all exterior doors are of solid core construction or made of metal. Make sure hinges are mounted so hinge pins are inside locked buildings. Install 3-inch screws in the center hole of each hinge leaf. Use heavy-duty striker plates mounted with 3-inch screws.

-- Secure overhead doors by drilling a hole into the track just above the top roller and inserting a heavy lock.

-- Pay special attention to smaller acts of theft that may occur in a short period of time. Thieves sometimes make quick grabs of smaller items to test security systems.

For More Information:

To learn more about equipment security systems and find antitheft tips, here are several Internet locations:

-- The Equipment Lock Company, Hedgesville, West Virginia (heavy locks for many types of farm equipment):

-- Kryptonite, Canton, Massachusetts (heavy padlocks, chains, cable and anchoring systems):

-- Vista Training Inc., Burlington, Wisconsin (security and theft-prevention training videos):

-- National Equipment Register Inc., New York, New York (a for-fee website for registering, tracking and reporting equipment and equipment thefts):


Dan Miller