How to Mark Your Tools to Prevent Theft: A Simply Guide

A business owner who is buying tools and has learned how to mark tools against theft

Every business owner knows that having the right tools is crucial for success. Ensuring that you and your employees have everything needed in order to perform high-quality work efficiently is necessary, but can be costly.

Many tools and equipment are valuable. For contractors who travel to various locations for work, tool theft is a growing problem. With construction site theft running rampant, it’s often small business owners who get hit the hardest when a thief spots an opportunity to sell tools stolen from a van that was left unattended or a worksite that was left unlocked.

While tool theft can’t be completely avoided, there are some simple steps business owners can take to help reduce their risk of their tools being stolen. Let’s start with a little background on tool theft and who it impacts the most.

Tool Theft: It’s on the Rise

According to a 2021 report, 89% of small business stores experienced a customer shoplifting from their store. Theft-related claims were costly, too. In 2016, it was estimated that anywhere from $300 million to $1 billion is lost annually to theft of tools and materials from job sites.

Some of the most commonly stolen pieces of equipment are:

  • Riding and garden mowers
  • Tractors and excavators
  • Loaders and forklifts
  • Generators and compressors
  • Brush chippers

Tool theft can be driven by brand and tool mobility in the construction industry, with big-name manufacturers of mobile equipment leading the large for the most-stolen pieces of machinery. Social media marketplaces and pawn shops can include a number of stolen Dewalt tools, stolen Hilti tools, stolen Snap-on tools, and stolen Milwaukee tools among many other brands.

Although construction is the most common target for tool theft, other common targets include:

  • Manufacturing. Many smaller items are stolen from manufacturing facilities, such as radios and examination equipment.
  • Offices and professional work spaces. Office theft can include big ticket items such as computer equipment and hard drives, but also see the loss of general office supplies such as staplers and stationery.
  • Companies that rent out equipment. This includes big-ticket items such as chainsaws and leaf blowers.

Why does tool theft occur?

While it may be out-of-the-blue for business owners, tool theft is far from a random act. There are several reasons why tools and equipment are frequently stolen from worksites.

Tool theft is relatively low-risk and very high-reward. Many tools are small enough to be discreetly taken or are otherwise mobile (think tractors and riding mowers). More importantly: they can fetch a pretty penny on the resale market. This is a major incentive for thieves.

Equipment often does not contain markings or identification of any kind. Not marking tools leave them vulnerable to theft because having no specific identifying features makes it less likely to raise suspicions from potential buyers.

With this logic, marking tools can help prevent theft. Read on for tips about how to mark tools to ensure they stay out of the hands of thieves.

How to Mark Your Tools

Don’t leave your tools at risk of theft and resale. A good place to start is to make sure your tools and equipment are visibly unique, making them difficult to pawn. Let’s look at ways to mark your tools to prevent theft.

1. Display the tool’s PIN.

A great way to get started is to keep an inventory of your tools, including their specific identifying features (such as product identification numbers and model numbers). Not only is this a helpful way to keep track of your tools, ensuring each is returned to its proper place at the end of the day — it also acts as an anti-theft procedure.

Make sure those same identifiers are permanently displayed on the tool itself. This makes them easy to spot if they’re posted online for resale or taken to a pawn shop. Some of the best options for permanent markings are:

  • Metal stamps. A custom stamp can be used to hammer symbols, logos, or verbiage onto equipment.
  • Engraving. Engraving tools can be relatively inexpensive and allows you more control over what is being inscribed on your equipment.
  • Etching. Although similar in effect to engraving, etching burns markings into a surface by using a laser or chemicals.
  • Dot peen. These marking machines create deep pinholes that combine to make straight and curved lines, allowing for highly legible markings.

2. Add contact details.

Similarly to making sure the PIN and other details are marked on the tools, adding contact information may be useful as well. For example, adding the business and business owner’s name and phone number could help prevent tools from being pawned or sold.

Brief instructions saying that, if found, the tool should be returned to a certain business or employee will help make the stolen tool identifiable and reduce its resale value. This information should be permanently marked on the tool using any of the marking and etching methods mentioned above so that a thief isn’t easily able to remove the identifiers

3. Remove branded logos.

Buying tools and equipment from well-known brands may seem like the right call. A popular brand with a positive reputation is usually popular for a reason, whether it’s for quality, craftsmanship, or strong company ethics. As a result, recognizable brand names often come with a higher price tag.

Even worse, they can be a major target for thieves due to their higher cost. One way to make your tools look less enticing is to remove or obscure any brand logos. The more generic the tools look, the less valuable they are for thieves looking to sell or pawn them off.

Important note: When removing logos and branding, be sure that all important identifiers such as item and model numbers are left intact.

4. Make the tool look used.

Another great way to make your tools less attractive to potential thieves is to make them look, well, less attractive in general. While this may seem counterintuitive, brand plates aren’t the only recognizable features of highly coveted items. Many brands have signature colors that make them stand out.

So consider giving your tools a makeover. Or rather, a make-under. Neon spray paint in less appealing colors is a simple way to make your tools less attractive without impacting their functionality. Seal with a clear top coat making it more difficult for the paint to be removed and be sure to document how they look in case they ever go missing.

5. Add a GPS tracker.

Although this might not prevent theft, per se, it could potentially help with the recovery of lost tools or machinery. There are small GPS devices available for purchase that can be attached to tools, equipment, and machinery. Many can be activated and tracked via smartphone, using their respective manufacturer’s app.

While this is primarily useful for finding tools, having a visible tracking device could potentially deter thieves. Some GPS trackers also can notify you when an item has been moved from its storage location.

Other theft-prevention tips.

While marking your tools is a great starting point for ensuring your equipment stays secure, there are other lines of defense that can take it to the next level. Let’s go through a few additional theft prevention measures.

Employee training: Make sure you have a plan in place to keep tabs on your equipment, and make that plan clear to all employees. This could include specific procedures for returning tools at the end of the day, or even putting theft prevention into the employee contract.

Immobilize your equipment: Larger mobile equipment — such as tractors and riding mowers — can be tempting for thieves, as the equipment’s wheels make them relatively easy to steal. Consider using chains or padlocks to immobilize equipment when it’s not in use. Keep the keys for the locks safe and out of sight. This helps ensure that you are the only person who can access the equipment.

Remove batteries: Handheld battery-powered tools decrease in value without their batteries and chargers. Removing batteries and chargers and keeping them in a separate secure location may stop potential thieves from taking them. If the resale value is decreased, the theft itself may not be worth the legwork.

Install a vehicle alarm system: The majority of work vehicle break-ins happen over the weekend when the construction businesses are typically closed. A vehicle alarm system can be purchased for a relatively low cost and is a great way for you to keep tabs on your work vehicles, even outside business hours.

Workplace signage: Similar to marking your tools, adding signage to your worksite may deter tool and equipment theft. Signs stating that the workplace is under video surveillance — or that the equipment contains tracking devices — could scare off potential thieves.

What to Do if Your Equipment is Stolen

If even after all your efforts you still fall victim to tool theft, here are several steps to take:

  • Contact the authorities. The sooner you alert them, the more likely you are to recover your missing items.
  • Send details of the theft to your insurance company. File a claim with them, and include all the information you have about the tool, such as its PIN, manufacturer, and details or photos of what it looks like.
  • Offer a reward. For a big-ticket item especially, it may be worth advertising that you’re offering a reward for its return.

Recover from Tool Theft with Inland Marine Insurance

As a business owner, one of your primary responsibilities is making sure your business is prepared to face whatever life throws at it. Life is unpredictable. So it’s crucial that you do everything you can to make sure your business is protected in the event the unthinkable happens.

Does car insurance cover stolen tools? Nope, but thankfully inland marine insurance may help with that, especially if you travel with your equipment for work. An inland marine insurance policy typically covers your business in situations involving:

  • Theft of business property
  • Loss of business property
  • Damage to business property

Inland marine may specifically cover property that is in transit or stored offsite. If you’ve had tools stolen from a work van, inland marine insurance might protect them. For construction workers, contractors, and handymen who travel frequently with their tools, or whose equipment is primarily stored away from the business’s headquarters, this type of coverage could be essential. Not only are tools expensive to replace, having to do so can slow your business down.

Don’t let your business get held back. Here at Simply Business, our licensed agents work with small business owners like you every day to find coverage that works for them. Insurance can seem complicated — we can help. Start your inland marine insurance quote online today. We’ll have a quote ready for you in minutes. Protecting your business is our business.

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Tools to Succeed

Owning and operating a small business can be an extremely fulfilling career. But it comes with its own unique set of risks as well. Business owners pour time, effort, and capital into their operations because their business is their livelihood.

Protecting your assets is crucial, and may seem daunting. Starting on the right foot will help to keep things running smoothly. Some simple steps for marking and cataloging your tools and equipment could save you a world of headaches down the line. The right tools are pivotal to providing efficient, high-quality service. Make sure they don’t fall into the wrong hands.

Kristin Vegh

After several years of working in insurance while also freelance writing, I’ve finally found where the two interests intersect. I’m a writer with Simply Business with an insurance processing background and a love of research.

Kristin writes on a number of topics such as small business trends, license reciprocity, and BOP insurance.