Risky Business: Thwarting potential thieves
08/07/2012

There was something about the customer that aroused Dawn Reagan’s suspicions. Reagan, part owner of AA Rents in Marion, Ind., was busy with another rental, but overheard her daughter, Celeste, conversing with the clean-cut young man, who came in that Saturday morning to rent a skid-steer.

The first thing she noticed was that the guy was “overly friendly,” as if trying to disarm any concern. He also presented a New Castle, Ind., driver’s license, mentioning that he was a contractor there. However, he provided no proof that he was a contractor. When asked where he was using the machine, he named the town, but couldn’t come up with the address.

What began turning suspicion into concern was when Reagan asked him if he knew of Hudson Tool Rental, located in New Castle, reasoning that any contractor from there would know that business. When he replied that he didn’t, alarm bells clanged in her head. Even so, they took his cash deposit and an employee began loading the skid-steer onto the customer’s trailer, taking down the plate numbers.

Still uncomfortable, Reagan called Hudson Rental and learned the same person had rented a skid-steer there the previous day and that it was due back that very Saturday. However, the customer had called Hudson saying he needed the equipment longer. Just like at AA Rents, he had pulled up with his own trailer and had paid in cash.

Reacting quickly, Reagan instructed her employee to off-load the equipment, telling the customer she had made a mistake and that this skid-steer, as well as their other two, was already rented. “The guy didn’t argue, which I also thought was odd,” she recalls.

Monday, they called Hudson to see if the rental had been returned. It had not. Now it was their turn to worry, recalls Heather Hudson, office manager. Reagan provided them with the license plate numbers of the truck and trailer and a description of the truck, which matched the one that had been at Hudson Rental.

“On Monday morning, an employee from Hudson Rental went to the address of the customer who rented [the skid-steer],” says Hudson. “They were unable to make contact with him. Greg Hudson went to the Henry County Sheriff’s Office to report it stolen.”

Enter Nate Rayne, Indiana State Police trooper, who ran into Hudson in the parking lot of the Sheriff’s Office. “I knew Greg through a towing service that he has and also because of the store,” Raney says. “Greg stopped me and said that he had a funny feeling about a skid-steer.”

After several days of Scotland Yard-like detective work, Raney and another Indiana State Police trooper, Brandon Steffee, located the missing equipment in an abandoned warehouse in Muncie, Ind. They found it just in time as the suspects were stripping the skid-steer of identification and were getting ready to paint and sell it, Raney recalls.

As a side note, this bust led the troopers to a meth lab, resulting in numerous arrests. Raney credits the “quick thinking” by AA Rents for preventing the conversion and also playing a part in putting another meth lab out of business.

AA Rents did several things right. “Taking the plate numbers was the big thing that got everything for us,” says Raney. “They also had a really good DVR system, which gave us a good image of the truck that picked up the loader.”

There are other strategies that can help when it comes to preventing equipment theft. For example, scrutinize identification to ensure the person renting the equipment matches the driver’s license. Reagan also advises asking lots of questions, finding out as much information as possible — admittedly challenging to do when the counter is full and employees and customers are stressed. However, slowing
down and taking a little bit of time can prevent a costly conversion, says Raney.

Establishing a relationship with local law enforcement also is helpful. Find out which officers investigate equipment theft and call to introduce yourself. Educate them on equipment identification by offering your facilities and equipment for hands-on training. Invite detectives to local association meetings to learn about rental practices.

If you’re not an American Rental Association (ARA) member, consider becoming one. Reagan says were it not for the company’s membership in the Hoosier Rental Association, she never would have known about Hudson. Visit your local law enforcement agency to see if conversion is happening in your area and honor your instincts.

“Follow your gut,” says Reagan. “This is what made me call Hudson in the first place.”

Jim Turner is an underwriter for ARA Insurance, Kansas City. Mo. For more information, call 800-821-6580 or visit ARAinsure.com.