Stop, Thief!

Marcia Doyle Headshot
Updated Aug 6, 2013

Theft deterrents have one aim:  Frustrating the bad guys

By Marcia Gruver


Everyone loves the convenience of the universal key. This universal key, however, also makes it easy for thieves to use their own set to start up your equipment, drive it onto a trailer and take off down the road.

There are a variety of devices ranging from simple to sophisticated to make this act less successful. They vary from locks to products embedded deep in a machine’s electrical guts. Sometimes thieves will know how to thwart them, but not always. And they’re a definite sign to anyone you’re serious about keeping your machines in your possession.

Here’s an overview of what’s currently available.



Use radio frequency identification technology to way lay sticky fingers Bosch Power Tools and Accessories and Bosch Digital Power Tools have launched Safe & Sound, the first service to provide the construction industry with radio frequency identification technology. The company has partnered with ToolWatch and Intermec to offer an alternative to bar code tracking. New Bosch power tools can come with the option of product and serial number information already burned into passive RFID tags either secured inside the tool or offered for insertion by a qualified service professional.

How it works: Tool information is stored on a RFID chip, which can then transfer this information through an antenna to a reader device. The RFID tag houses a chip and antenna. For more information call (877) 267-2499.




Three-pronged prevention thwarts thieves

Late one night in New Mexico three thieves entered a Joiner Construction jobsite on U.S. 550, targeting a backhoe. When the backhoe owned by the Albuquerque contractor didn’t start, the three the left the jobsite for cables to wire around the master disconnect switch. When they returned, they then started up the backhoe and one thief began driving it down a street with the other two in a pickup truck following close behind. Before they got even a mile from the site they were stopped by several police cruisers. By the time company owner Bill Joiner arrived on the scene, the three thieves were handcuffed and lying on the ground.

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Information to advance your business from industry suppliers

How it works: The Titan Equipment Monitoring System offers proactive prevention, real-time notification and GPS tracking. The first stalls any theft attempt. At the same time, the system silently calls for help, notifying law enforcement and other designated personnel and provides a GPS location. For more information call (650) 965-1636 or go to



Require a code before machine operation

All Link-Belt-branded LX series excavators have carried anti-theft systems as standard since late 2000. Later this year these machines will also carry GPS systems. How it works: The anti-theft system has password-protection features similar to those of an ATM machine. When you start the machine, you enter a 4-digit password using a series of push-button controls. If the correct password is not entered and a thief tries to activate any function, three things happen: the swing lock engages, the travel alarm goes off and the engine is fixed at idle. As soon as a thief tries to move the machine, the engine will die. For more information call (859) 245-3900 or go to





Stop a thief from starting a machine in the first place

Alex Barnard, equipment manager for Hall Contracting, Charlotte, North Carolina, was frustrated. Five machines had been stolen from company jobsites in three years. The company never saw three of the machines again, and the other two came back badly damaged.

So as a test, Barnard installed Cat’s Machine Security System on two machines. The next Monday morning, operators discovered thieves had tried to start one of the MSS installed machines, but failed. Unfortunately they got away with another machine that was not MSS equipped.

How it works: The MSS, which can be installed on all machine brands, disables the starting system when someone attempts to start a machine using a standard key. Only an MSS key with your unique code will allow the system to start. Since MSS is integrated into a machine’s electronics, thieves cannot bypass it. The machine’s electronic control module checks the key being inserted against a preapproved list of keys you have authorized. If the key is on the list, the machine will start. MSS has several programmable features, including limiting operators to select machines, and controlling the days and hours equipment may be started and guarded against unauthorized weekend use. The MSS can be used in conjunction with Cat’s satellite-based Product Link, one feature of which allows a machine to be tracked after a theft.

For more information contact your local Caterpillar dealer or visit



Prevent hot wiring with this simple device

Keytroller offers a simple, inexpensive, easy-to-install device that disables an engine on any make or model.

How it works: By snapping a wireless relay in place of your vehicle’s starter relay (or wired in line between the battery and solenoid), you’ll disable an engine until the relay is enabled by your operator using the device’s keypad or keychain fob. If a thief tries to hot wire around the ignition switch, the engine will not start until the wireless relay is enabled. Since the ignition key is replaced with a lever switch, ignition key hassles are eliminated. Keypad models keep untrained, unauthorized operators from starting the vehicle. Also available are models with real-time event logging. For more information call (813) 877-4500.



Keep track of what’s in your tool bin

The Bakersfield, California, branch of Contra Costa Electric, an EMCOR-owned company, uses more than 3,000 tools with a value of $750,000. Using a hand-written system to track tools they found they were forced to replace the same tools over and over again. In 1996, the company started using ToolWatch, which came into play when they received a call from a detective in 2004. In January of that year, a company jobsite had fallen prey to thieves who made off with almost $30,000 worth of equipment. The company counted the equipment as lost. But then a multi-jurisdictional law enforcement agency effort in Southern California discovered a warehouse in Long Beach full of stolen tools. The officers traced four of the tools back to Contra Costa.

How it works: The ToolWatch SE tool and equipment management system is now wireless and cellular, offering better inventory and data control. The system allows you real-time access to tools in other ToolWatch databases at other sites and presents information in custom graphs and reports. With the SE version, you’ll be able to screen out sensitive information. For more information

call (800) 676-4034 or visit



Police can pinpoint the location of your missing machine

Since a Texas national construction firm first equipped 510 machines with LoJack last year, it has had two service trucks and one heavy-duty truck recovered by police using the system, for a total value of $700,000. One recovery involved a heavy-duty truck stolen from LaPorte, Texas.

Thirty-seven minutes following activation of the system, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and Houston police officers picked up the signal. They tracked it to the back of a parking lot where they discovered not only the truck, but two machines not equipped with LoJack stolen from the same construction company.

How it works:

Certified technicians install the LoJack transmitter in any of dozens of locations inside your equipment. The transmitter is powered by your equipment’s electrical system with an additional backup battery. When your machine is stolen, simply file a stolen vehicle report with the police, which initiates the activation process. Police use tracking computers to receive the signals, pinpointing the machine’s location. For more information call (877)775-6522 or visit




Increase your chances of recovery by registering your equipment

In January, a sheriff’s department officer in Oregon was inspecting a skid-steer loader he found in the possession of a person he suspected trafficked stolen equipment. Since the officer could not find the machine’s Product Identification Number plate, he called NER and determined the public plate had been removed. NER directed the officer to an alternate location on the machine where a hidden plate was found. Using the PIN found on this plate, NER then searched its internal databases to a machine registered by the equipment owner.

How it works: Equipment owners can register their entire fleet – smaller fleets can register online and larger fleets can download electronic inventories. NER provides 4-inch-by-5-inch decals for each registered item, alerting potential thieves the item is registered on a database linked to the company’s national stolen equipment database. This database helps law enforcement identify the owner of any registered equipment through NER’s 24-hour hotline. For more information call (212) 297-1805.




Pull your equipment out of the grasp of thieves

Joe Serda, equipment coordinator for Zachry Construction, San Antonio, received an automatic geo-fence alert notifying him a 30-ton crane had an unauthorized move from an equipment storage yard in Houston. When he contacted personnel at the yard, they discovered a haul truck and lowboy trailer were also missing. Using GlobalTRACS, Serda issued a wireless command to locate the unit and received its street location and geographical coordinates within seconds. The company contacted the Houston Police Department and arranged to meet a squad car at the equipment location. The police then released the machines to Zachry.

How it works: GlobalTRACS automatically collects, organizes and transmits vital information about where and how construction equipment is being used. The GPS-based location information keeps you informed about where equipment is located on demand or at predetermined intervals. Based on updated GPS data, the system also offers geo-fence monitoring alerts to inform you about equipment movement outside pre-set boundaries. For more information call (800) 348-7227 or visit




Remotely disable an engine when triggers occur

How it works: The Komtrax asset tracking system gives users the ability to disable an engine through a user website or by programming the system to do so when certain triggers are violated, such as disconnection of the communication antenna, start up of the machine at unauthorized hours or movement. The system also can be integrated with other fleet management programs, allowing you to generate reports showing use, location and other information. Komtrax lets you see the current status of your machines anytime and anywhere. For more information contact your local Komatsu dealer.