Continuing inflation has increased theft nation-wide, and fleets are jam packed with high-value resale items. Because vehicles, vehicle parts and equipment fetch such a shiny price, it’s more important than ever to find ways to mitigate theft risks. Here are a few tips fleets can use to ensure their assets are less enticing targets.
Hard Times Lead to Five-finger Discounts
The phrase “five-finger discount” is a widely-used one and can generally be attributed to negating the impact of juvenile, or even small-time, theft. It’s a phrase that helps those uncomfortable with theft — or those trying to persuade others that a particular theft is “victimless” — absolve themselves from or mitigate the seriousness of the crime.
The psychology around theft is quite interesting and involves numerous players: the thief, the reseller, the customer, the victim and those caught in the crossfire. Theft is one of those crimes in which all characters have the potential to be the villain or the victim. And sometimes both. You could even say that that’s what makes the “honorable” thief a popular trope in entertainment media (looking at you, Robin Hood).
Theft is a crime, and it is wrong, but desperation can turn anyone into a criminal. That’s not to say there aren’t people who steal solely for personal gain or for the thrill of it, but that there may be an underlying systemic problem causing an increase in theft by those who would not normally do so. Worldwide inflation, and particularly in the U.S., brings on a surge in theft.
“Thefts and robberies in major cities increased by around 20 percent in the first half of 2022 […] The last major crime wave, from the 1960s through the early ’90s, happened alongside a rise in inflation,” according to the National Criminal Justice Association. One of their sources, Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri St. Louis, explains that this is likely not a coincidence. “How can inflation lead to more crime? People might try to get around higher prices by stealing. […] Higher prices can push people to seek cheaper — and potentially stolen — goods at gray markets, such as pawn shops. These purchases effectively boost demand for stolen goods, enticing more thieves and robbers.”
When the price of necessary goods like food, transportation and housing increases for a society whose pay largely remains stagnant, it gets hard to keep moral and legal values front and center. “Given the research on the relationship between inflation and crime, recent rising crime rates could be attributed to high inflation,” according to an op-ed from The Hill. “Study after study after study has shown a strong positive relationship between rising inflation and rising acquisitive crime — that is, illegal acts committed for monetary gain, such as theft and property crimes.”
I know, I know: “What does all this have to do with fleet?” Well, hold your horses (fleet management software can help with that) because we’re about to get into that. You see, fleet-driven businesses nationwide are experiencing an uptick in vehicle, vehicle parts and equipment theft, from Williamsburg, VA to North Highlands, CA. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), “More than 1 million vehicles were stolen last year, marking a 7% increase over 2021, [12% over 2020 and 20% over 2019],” with Chevrolet, Ford and GMC pickups being listed among the top 10 targets.
As suggested, this increase in thefts can be largely attributed to ongoing inflation, which began to skyrocket in late 2020 and significantly increased the value of these stolen goods. Pew Research Center explains that the “U.S. inflation rate has almost quadrupled” from 2020 to 2022, and the trend is continuing well into 2023. It may not be surprising that the last time vehicle thefts reached this magnitude was back in 2008, but if you’re too young to remember, that was the last time the U.S. hit inflation rates similar to current proportions.
Theft Avoidance Tips for Fleets
It may not come as a surprise that high-value resale items are in high demand. With increased new and used vehicle and trade equipment prices compounding the effects of increased food and housing prices, it’s a wonder anyone can afford anything. Automotive parts are indeed high-resale-value items, as are landscaping, construction, cleaning and other trade equipment. And cargo transporters? Well, let’s just say we hope you aren’t transporting food, kitchenware or electronics.
Fleet asset and cargo theft doesn’t just cost businesses the monetary value attached to those items; it also causes an increase in service spend for recovered assets, replacement costs for unrecoverable assets and costs associated with both productivity loss and downtime. And, cargo loss can equate to business loss. Fleets looking to secure their assets can take several actions to help deter theft, improve recovery rates and increase the safety of their employees in the field.
1. Increase Asset Visibility: Y’all remember the pun-filled article from The Guardian titled “Wienermobile in a pickle after falling victim to catalytic converter thieves”? While it does go to show that not all business-branded assets are off-limits to thievery, you’ve likely keenly noted that the beloved Wienermobile itself wasn’t stolen. While vehicle wraps and decals are a good way of increasing brand visibility, they’re also a beneficial theft deterrent. The more identifiable your assets, the less attractive they are to thieves as they can easily be clocked as stolen once law enforcement has been notified.
2. Digitally Protect Your Lot: Where do you stash your fleet assets after a hard day’s work? Ideally, they’d be locked away in a lovely climate-controlled building with security code entrances. This isn’t feasible for all fleets, though. So what can you do? Geofence those bad boys. Implementing a geofencing solution with automated alerts ensures you know where your assets are at all times. Using solutions like GPS and telematics devices, you can set geofencing thresholds based on area of operation, routing/jobsite locations and home turf, and set alerts in real time should a vehicle exit these parameters.
3. Implement Management Solutions: Fleet solutions, such as the aforementioned GPS and telematics devices, as well as integrated fleet management software (FMS), helps fleets gain better control of assets through improved asset and fleet data visibility and asset monitoring, including vehicle and equipment assignments. Assignments improve asset accountability, meaning employees in the field are more likely to ensure vehicle and equipment security and be more vigilant of opportunities for theft. Assignments also help source missing equipment inventory, allowing fleet managers to narrow down the location of a theft event and easily inventory what’s missing for police reports and insurance claims.
4. Improve Safety and Security: Training employees on theft avoidance, both in the office and in the field, can help fleets reduce theft instances related to negligence, including leaving windows down, leaving doors unlocked, not securing access to equipment at the jobsite and not securing access to assets at end of day. Additionally, coaching drivers on signs of vehicle tampering and encouraging mindfulness of surroundings, including signs of a potential carjacking, can improve employee safety in the field. It’s imperative during this training that employees learn how to properly secure assets, recognize suspicious behavior and avoid/disengage from dangerous situations.
5. Bonus Tip: Rehabilitate Your Thief: This might be the least likely, yet most impactful tip. One of the best ways to deter future theft is by having a pro who can help mitigate those chances by lending their five-finger discount expertise — kind of the same way software security companies employ hackers to find weaknesses. While nobody really wants to employ someone with a history of theft due to the liability, it can actually be the best way to uncover vulnerabilities within your operation and set up a comprehensive theft protection strategy.
Use FMS to Improve Security
While eliminating all possibility of theft is not realistic, reducing the likelihood of theft while improving the chances of asset recovery are more than possible. Fleets can take advantage of fleet technologies like FMS to employ on-site security measures and integrate solutions such as security cameras and geofencing to reduce the chances of asset, equipment and parts theft and improve recovery rates of stolen assets.
FMS provides asset and driver assignments to improve accountability on the road and on the jobsite, including equipment assignments, to better inform managers of what theft may have occurred, where, when, why and how. Implementing anti-theft solutions for your fleet can go a long way in saving the company time, money and reputation.