The Latest Threat In Tool Theft: The Skeleton Key That Helps Criminals Break Into Your Vans & Steal Your Tools

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As a tradesperson, you know that one of your most valuable assets in your work is your tools. You’ve spent a fortune investing in the best makes to get the job done, and you rely on them to help you bring home the bacon.

But not everyone holds the same respect for your property as you do. According to recent research, tool theft in the UK among tradespeople is up over 30% in the last year, and the average value of claims has grown by 40%.

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This new research showcases a worrying trend, as tradespeople across the UK struggle to keep their tools safe against new thieving techniques, such as the ‘peel and steal’, a tactic where criminals use their body weight to press on the van, then lift open the top of the side door.

The police are even advising those in your profession to not keep tools in their vans overnight. It’s claimed a van is broken into and tools stolen every 23 minutes in the UK.

 

The new threat to tool theft

But now, there’s a new threat to tradespeople with regards to tool theft. A recent article by BBC Newsbeat highlights the danger of the skeleton key – a tool which is being sold online for £20, and enables criminals to break into popular vehicles at will. Despite having a legal use as a locksmith’s tool, critics claim these tools should be made less readily available to the general public.

Steffan George, from the Master Locksmiths Association, told the BBC: “These are legitimate locksmiths tools, but they shouldn’t be available to everyone. We would welcome restriction of their sale.”

Police figures obtained by BBC Radio 5 Live suggest this kind of theft is becoming more and more commonplace, and has risen by nearly two-thirds in two years. The figures showed that there were 14,063 tool thefts from vehicles in 2014/15, and this has increased dramatically to 22,749 in the year 2016/17. Tradespeople are calling the theft an “epidemic” that’s destroying their livelihood.

 

Stories from the victims

A victim of the key scam, builder, Spencer Hargrave from West Yorkshire, estimates £1,500 of equipment and tools were taken from his van in December 2015, when it was broken into.

“I rang the police and they said there had been a few in the area [who had] been done on the same morning,” he told the BBC, “they’ve entered the van with a key… which I’d never heard of until then.”

Unfortunately, Spencer wasn’t the only victim of the crime. Two months later, the same thing happened to his workmate, Paul Butterfield. Paul lost hundreds of pounds worth of tools, and claims the police weren’t interested in investigating the matter further.

“They said ‘it’s a builder’s van. There’ll be no fingerprints. Get yourself to work,’” Paul told the BBC, “they gave me a crime number and that was it really – forgotten about.”

After their experience, Spencer and Paul set up the Van and Tool Theft Awareness Group on Facebook, and they claim police apathy is a big part of the rising problem. The claim has been denied by Deputy Chief Constable, Matt Jukes, who speaks for the police on issues involving theft.

Matt Jukes told the BBC: “We investigate these cases and tailor our response to the circumstances and individual needs of the victim. There has been some rise in theft from vehicles in recent times. However, this has been against the backdrop of theft rates decreasing for a number of years.”

Despite the police’s reassurances, the figures are quite startling. The question becomes, with the thieves getting smarter, and tool theft becoming more common, how do you keep your tools and equipment safe from the criminals? We’ve put together a quick guide to help keep your van, and tools, safe from sticky fingers.

 

Keeping your tools safe: Advice from the experts

  • Remove your tools from your van whenever it’s possible to do so, particularly overnight
  • If you do need to leave your tools in your van, check that your alarm is fully functional and consider having extra locks fitted
  • If you have to leave your tools in your van, try to park in a busy, well-lit area, in CCTV view if possible. Try to back your rear and/or side doors against a wall to make access more difficult for the thieves. Keep tools out of sight
  • Consider registering your tools for free on the Immobilise register, which will help police identify them if they’re recovered after a theft
  • Engraving or marking your tools with permanent marker or nail varnish can be both a good way to recover stolen tools, as well as deter and prevent theft. Ultraviolet pens can also be used to mark tools and these are particularly effective as they reduce the chance of thieves removing your mark
  • Tool cover can be a god-send if all your other safety measures fail, so it’s best to be prepared and invest in adding this onto your policy. All Tradesman Saver policies can have Tools and Business equipment cover added to them

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