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Tool Theft Epidemic Expected to Get Worse


Escalating tool theft is having an enormous impact on tradespeople and over half (58%) expect these crimes to increase due to the cost of living crisis. In this post we look at the alarming crime figures and consider what people can do to protect their valuable tools

Various sources, including Direct Line business insurance and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, have revealed startling tool theft statistics showing how as many as one in three van drivers have become crime victims in the past year. This reflects a notable increase from the previous year when one in four van drivers were targeted by criminals.

These crimes are having an enormous impact on those victimised by criminals, forcing some to cease trading and change careers. And tool theft from professional tradespeople has a knock-on impact on the projects they are working on, causing delays averaging around six days and further costs on top of what’s been lost in the thefts. VW has estimated this loss in work is costing around £5.2bn annually.

Tools Stolen from Vans

According the VW, the average value of tools stored in a van is £2500. Losses due to theft add up to a staggering value of around £4.4bn in replacement tools each year.

Toolstation used freedom of information requests (FOI), submitted to UK police forces in 2020, to get details of crimes involving tool theft. Data showed the most commonly stolen tools from vans were these:

  • Drills
  • Saws
  • Nail guns
  • Tool boxes
  • Hedge Trimmers
  • Screwdrivers
  • Leaf Blowers
  • Power washers
  • Spanners
  • Hammers

In 2021 research reflected how around 30% of UK consumers had purchased second hand tools and 16% had done so multiple times. Tools are commonly sold from online market places, car boot sales and through private sales. And as many as six in ten tradespeople report they have been offered tools that were suspected to have been stolen.

This buoyant second-hand tool market, where equipment is available quickly and cheaply, is considered to be a key factor driving growth in tool theft across the country. A major problem is that consumers are not able to spot the signs of a suspicious seller or stolen tools. There is also widespread lack of awareness and concern.

Jonny McHugh, SME Business Manager at Direct Line, says:

“Our research demonstrates how the scale and frequency of tool theft is partly fuelled by the demand for cheap second-hand tools which are quick to source. Tool theft is hugely disruptive and often has a devastating impact on tradespeople’s ability to work and livelihoods.”

Regions with the Highest Levels of Tool Theft

Research conducted by Simply Business and the online trades community On the Tools has revealed that over 78% of tradespeople have experienced tool theft. Their survey of over 2000 people provided the following regional tool theft statistics:

Region % tool thefts reported
 South East  17.98%
 London  17.39%
 West Midlands  10.50%
 North West  10.17%
 South West  10.10%
 East Midlands  8.79%
 Yorkshire/Humber  8.79%
 Scotland  5.84%
 North East  4.72%
Wales 3.81%
Ireland 1.64%

As can be seen from these figures, the South East and London are the apparent tool theft crime hotspots with more than 17% of tradespeople affected. But ongoing figures clearly show how these impactful crimes are escalating in all areas of the country.

Tool Theft Crime Reports

Direct Line insurance states that a tool has been stolen from a tradesperson every 17 minutes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, since March 2021. Their research reflects how these crimes have escalated since the Covid-19 pandemic.

And criminals have become increasingly bold, reflected in the fact that 39% of tradespeople reported having tools stolen from their van while it was parked directly outside their home. And one in five (20%) say they’ve had tools stolen from their place of work.

These crimes are noted to have a huge impact on the mental health of victims with around 15% experiencing increased anxiety and as many as one in five stating their experience made them less able to trust other people.

A Midlands based Painter and Decorator named James Reeve, after having his tools stolen, commented:

“It’s not like going into a store of a multi-billion pound conglomerate to steal a packet of sweets – you’re stealing someone’s livelihood.

“It should be treated in a similar way to an assault because that’s basically what it is. You’re taking people’s belongings, which results in potentially taking food off a family’s table. You don’t know what the impact of it is going to be.”

Another crime victim, a carpenter, is reported to have had his tools stolen more than a dozen times in his career. In one case he was targeted in broad daylight as he was unloading his van. The criminals told him that if he reported the crime to the police they would come back and kill his family, causing a great deal of mental distress and worry. In a subsequent night time attack he lost around £7000 worth of valuable equipment, prompting him to consider giving up carpentry as a profession.

Back in 2017 a new van crime technique for gaining entry into vans was reported. This was nicknamed ‘peel and steal’ but is also known as ‘peeling’. The technique enables criminals to gain entry into a vehicle without triggering an alarm that may be activated by the van doors.
Many modern vans are built as light as possible to maximise payload but this makes them more vulnerable to this type of attack. Videos show criminals gaining access to a van’s interior, using the peel-and-steal technique, in under 16 seconds.

New Legislation

Research has revealed how more than one million thefts went unsolved last year in the UK. On 15 June 2022, MP Greg Smith presented the Equipment Theft (Prevention) Bill, a Private Member’s Bill seeking to prevent the theft and re-sale of equipment and tools used by tradespeople, agricultural and other businesses.

While this piece of legislation is significantly focused on aspects of rural crime, such as the theft and re-sale of valuable ATVs (all terrain vehicles), it is hoped the new laws will also be beneficial to tradespeople and the security of their valuable tools and equipment.

What Can Tradespeople Do?

One of the notable statistics derived from recent research is how a high proportion of tradespeople don’t have tool insurance or don’t have adequate or appropriate insurance. While insurance doesn’t prevent theft it can be enormously beneficial when it comes to replacing stolen equipment. Also, insurance companies can provide useful guidance in protecting valuables.

Its important to make certain your insurance policy provides the cover needed and its always important to be aware of any conditions that need to be met, such as vehicle alarms, along with what the insurance excess payment is.

Prevention is far better than cure is an old saying that’s highly relevant to those who keep valuable tools in their vehicles. Here`s a roundup of the primary crime prevention recommendations that should be considered.

Store Tools Sensibly and Securely

The more difficult it is for thieves to find and steal your tools the less likely it is you will become a crime victim. Its widely recommended that valuable tools and equipment shouldn’t be left in a van overnight. Ideally they should be removed and stored in a more secure location.

When storing tools in sheds, garages or elsewhere its important to ensure these are securely locked and possibly alarmed. Also, measures such as motion-triggered security lighting around the building or property will deter many opportunist criminals. And properties can be further secured using affordable CCTV camera systems.

Even when tools are inside a locked shed or garage its worth considering additional security measures such as locking valuable items to immovable anchor points using high quality security chains and padlocks. Expensive power tools and tool chests, for example, can be protected from theft using chains, padlocks and immovable anchors.

Park for Protection and Prevention

If tools can’t be removed from a van overnight its worth thinking about where the vehicle is parked. If its possible to leave the van in a secure, locked garage then this should always be used. If not then parking in busy, well lit areas and within view of CCTV cameras, can be enough to deter some criminals.

Another simple preventative measure is to park a van with the sliding or rear doors close to a wall or fence as this can make it difficult for thieves to gan entry. But of course this will not prevent thieves equipped with skeleton keys from breaking into the van.

Secure the Van

Van alarm systems are widely recommended and equipment is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Some of today’s systems include multiple axle motion detection, designed to protect vehicles from ‘peel and steal’ attacks while also detecting shock, rotation, tilting and motion as well as door opening and air temperature changes.

Sophisticated alarm technology using bluetooth and GSM, enables the van owner to be notified of any attack. These systems can potentially be connected to immobiliser technology to prevent the van from being stolen.

As well as a van alarm system its worth considering additional van security measures such as lockable, interior tool cabinets (sometimes called van vaults) Van security cages, with internal locks and robust metal work, provide valuable tool security inside a van.

Existing locks can be boldstered with van deadlocks or easily installed shackless van padlocks and hasps.

van padlock and hasp
Van Padlock and Hasp


Another technique recommended by some is to use fake signage or logos on the van exterior. These fake signs might indicate the van is protected with a security system or they may aim to suggest the van isn’t used by a tradesperson. While its been widely pointed out that fake signage is a poor security tactic, its better than nothing.

Secure Your Keys

Its also very important not to overlook van-key security. The easiest way to steal a van is by firstly stealing the keys, which is why its vital to ensure van keys are always stored securely and never within reach of a front door or visible from a window. Another important technical consideration relates to electronic keyless entry systems which can potentially be intercepted by criminals, fooling the system to make it look like a key is present. Keeping keyless van key fobs in RFID pouches prevents them from being hijacked using this technique.

Make Tools Less Appealing

Its important to remain aware that the reason tools are stolen is because there is an active market of unconcerned purchasers. But people looking for cheap tools are primarily interested in high quality, branded equipment. So tools can be made less appealing by removing their brand names and perhaps marking them with neon spray paint and making them look well used.

Use Security Marking

Security marking valuable tools acts as both a deterrent and an effective method for identifying tools if they are stolen. Security labels are impossible to remove and contain unique identification numbers and QR codes.

datatag power tool security marking pack
Datatag Power Tool Security Marking System


Thieves know that tools marked with these security tags simply can’t be sold on the black market.

wire cutters
ID Marked Cutters

Alternatively, tools can be labelled and marked using a permanent ink marker, chemical etching or metal engraving. This low cost security technique immediately makes tools far more difficult to sell on the black market and therefore less appealing to criminals.

Maintain an Up to Date Tool Inventory

One of the problems faced by many who have suffered theft of tools from their vans is they don’t know exactly what’s been taken. When it comes to reporting crimes to the police and insurance companies its essential to know exactly what’s been stolen. That’s why its important to establish and maintain an inventory of what’s in the van, along with the value of the items.

Tool tracking apps and software, that enable the whereabouts of tagged tools to be continuously monitored, are becoming increasingly popular.

Always Report Offers for Low Cost Tools

As previously noted, a primary driver of the current tool-theft crime wave is demand, with a high proportion of stolen tools sold to unconcerned tradespeople and the public.

Police forces throughout the UK report multiple cases of suspected stolen tools being sold from car boot sales. Its important to raise awareness of this issue and always report suspicious offers from car boot sales, online market places or anywhere else, to the police. The old saying that ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’ always applies.

The bottom line is that while there is demand for low cost tools, criminals will always find ways to steal them. So its up to owners to do all they can to protect their valuables and for everyone to help raise awareness of these crimes.

If you have any questions about security and which options are appropriate for your needs, remember we are here to help. Give us a call on 01273 475500 and we’ll provide you with free, expert advice.

This message was added on Thursday 16th February 2023

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