Report: Hurricanes lead to increased equipment theft

Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma not only caused widespread destruction, but also contributed to “dramatically” increased construction equipment thefts in the Gulf States and surrounding areas, according to a report by the National Equipment Register.

NER, which operates a national database of equipment theft and ownership records used by law enforcement officers to identify stolen equipment, found the number of thefts reported in the Gulf region from the time Katrina hit to the end of December was up 22 percent compared to the same period in 2004. In addition to Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama and Texas, the NER report included the surronding states of Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee in its Gulf region designation. In other parts of the country the theft rate increased very little from August to December, said David Shillingford, president of NER.

The company’s report explores trends related to the theft of rental equipment, fraud and the resale of flood damaged equipment, and gives advice on how to reduce the risk of theft and increase the chances of recovering stolen equipment.

“In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina we started to see a trend of greater theft in and around the Gulf States and have been tracking this closely,” Shillingford said. “Now that so much equipment is in the areas of reconstruction we are concerned that theft will continue to rise.”

Alert buyers can try to find out if a machine has been stolen by calling NER. The report includes a case study in which a buyer in Mississippi who was being offered equipment below market price called NER to see if the equipment was listed as stolen. This led to an investigation and the recovery of $350,000 worth of equipment and two arrests. The sellers had been posing as having links to FEMA.

The full NER report is immediately available to law enforcement agents and NER member insurers and equipment owners. It will be posted on the NER website later in the year., Catepillar’s website for certified used equipment, is also warning potential buyers that 68 machines flood damaged at the Port of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina may be represented as new or “unused.” The machines do not carry a Caterpillar warranty.

To view a list of model and serial numbers for the flood damaged machines, click here.