Keeping your livelihood safe at the peak of trade tool theft
With the crisis of tool theft seemingly growing by the week, many have taken a stand and fought back. San Williams shares the ways people have chosen to tackle the issue, for their livelihood and other fellow tradies.
“A tradie is as only good as their tools,” they say, so what’s a tradie without any tools? Tool theft is costing Australians millions a year and could only be set to get worse.
For the first time in a decade, home break-ins are on the rise, with 194,100 households experiencing a break-in in 2022 according to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
In the same year, tool theft had set Victorian $20m with 29,000 stolen in the 12 months leading up to March 2023. But the crisis hasn’t just been felt in Australia.
After having thousands of dollars of tools stolen over recent years, UK electrician Ray Taylor took drastic measures by wiring up his van, delivering a shock of 1,000V through the door hand to any would-be thieves who tried to break in.
Ray says the tool theft issue is a grey area with local Wolverhampton West Midlands Police warning that he could be in for a lawsuit by anyone who touches the van.
“I’ve had a huge response. I’ve had so many requests from people wanting me to put it on their vans. It has gone mad,” Ray says.
“The police don’t want to know if something happens, they just give you a crime number. They’re not going to protect me, so I had to do something myself.”
Fed-up Aussie tradies have also taken it on their own to fight back. Expecting a return after being hit by tool theft weeks earlier, Melbourne carpenter Tim Curwood decided to set a trap by hiding an AirTag inside his tool bag. The ploy worked as the alleged thief returned to snatch the booby-trapped bag, letting Tim track $10,000 of his tools from Richmond to Thomastown before calling the police to arrest the suspect.
Victoria Police charged the culprit with 16 counts of theft from a motor vehicle and handling stolen goods. To Tim’s surprise, it wasn’t just his tools that were discovered.
“It turned a bad day into a really fun day, that’s for sure. But it picked up a whole bunch of other tools from other people as well, not just my gear,” Tim says.
Tools are known to be an ideal target item for thieves due to their high value and portability and, even when found, are rarely reunited with their owners. Tool Protect director Gayle Neville aims to change this after hearing her husband Dan, a Queensland police officer, mention how little could be done about retrieved stolen tools.
Gayle came up with the idea of registering all equipment tradies own, which includes serial numbers and models, into a virtual toolbox with an app that can be referred to in the event of theft. Once the information is stored, a tradie can then refer to it and identify when recovered.
“From a police perspective, it’s so frustrating with these power tools because power tools are like the other currency for drugs. We can match stolen tools with pawn shops and Cash Converters no worries because those shops are legally required to record the serial numbers, but that’s if the tradie provides those numbers,” Dan says.
“I’ll ring the tradie back and say, ‘You’ve said they’re a Milwaukee brand, and that they’re red, do you have any more details?’ I can’t help them because I get rooms full of stolen tools, and I really feel for them. Tools are their hands, essentially, without them, tradies are stuffed.”
Dan says without the providing of serial numbers, police won’t be able to determine if a victim’s tool is even theirs. However, with Tools Protect, tradies and police can make a social indent into the black market of power tools.
Gayle says that with Tool Protect, the process of identifying a lost tool is much quicker: “You’re not having to bring a shoebox with all your receipts. It also gives an extra incentive to protect tools because sometimes people can be a bit neglected in that area. Nobody ever thinks it’s going to happen to them.
“Tool insurance and broker companies also see the value. There’s a company in Sydney who recommends the app to their clients. We had another that wanted to give all their members a free subscription and even provide a possible discount of some sort.”
Since launching in 2019, Dan and Gayle have continued talking to hardware stores and tradies about Tool Protect’s functionalities and have expanded its audience coverage, from starting in Queensland and New South Wales to the rest of Australia, New Zealand and even now in the UK.
The scenario of finding tools and work gear stolen can still create a stressful situation, with the inconvenience of having to replace tools and gear as well as the disruption of work schedules it causes, sometimes putting strain on relationships with clients and employers.
In addition to these, Tools.com chief executive officer Peter Hosking says it’s also beneficial to do a lock change when buying a new toolbox, particularly from a mass manufacturer.
“If you’re buying from a mass manufacturer, then typically they’re buying bulk lots of locks. Personalising the locks on your storage system is probably the most important thing to do,” he says.
Laws and neighbourhood programs both contribute to people’s safety, however, acting as an effective deterrent, visual surveillance systems have been commonly seen as the best method for preventing theft when set up on a vehicle, home or work site.
The boom of technology over the last few years means the security camera market has also changed dramatically, progressing exceedingly from traditional cameras that required wiring through walls or requiring a qualified technician for the installation and setup.
“A lot of high-traffic areas are more susceptible to crime. It pays to be aware of where you’re parking as well as just getting into that routine of locking everything, so you do need that first line of defence where belongings are secured. But a step up from that, people are looking for more of a means to protect their gear, with security cameras and other technology,” Uniden national marketing communications manager Brad Hales says.
Identifying some key features of artificial intelligence (AI)-equipped devices, Uniden is one company looking at how it can continually enhance security. One of today’s key features is the ability to determine what’s typical for a specific household or work site.
With alerts being able to directly target a person, animal or vehicle in the driveway, AI detection can significantly lower false alarms, making sure that only pertinent warnings reach end users.
“Whether you’re an electrician, builder or plumber, you want to protect your gear and security devices offer an extra pair of eyes while on or off-site. With expensive equipment at risk of theft, tradies can take advantage of the relatively low cost of wireless-free cameras running off WiFi or 4G. Downloading manufacturer apps, such as Uniden, on mobile or tablet devices offers access to real-time footage while smart AI alerts detect motion that sends a notification,” Brad says.
It seems tool theft is a matter unlikely to ease anytime soon and could even worsen before showing any gain. Thankfully, there are many preventive measures to choose and benefit from.
Taking the basic measures such as ensuring tools are locked away goes a long way in reducing the risks of burglary, whereas more advanced solutions are on offer for stricter, specialised situations. But what’s just as important, and overlooked, is the precautions taken before a theft. More tool owners need to take the initiative. It’s imperative to register tools before it’s too late.