Roving criminal gangs are again targeted farms to steal satellite navigation systems worth tens of thousands of pounds.
Raids on farms in Norfolk, Suffolk and Hertfordshire last month saw as many as 40 machines broken into and GPS systems stolen in a single night. Victims included the Elveden estate, near Thetford.
NFU Mutual is advising farmers to be extra vigilant, remove systems where possible and return machinery to locked sheds or out of sight. The rural insurer is also working with police to combat the problem.
The cost of claims for stolen GPS systems almost doubled to £2.9m last year, said NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist Rebecca Davidson. Determined gangs using new tactics could lead to even higher losses this year, she added.
“Criminal gangs are hitting farms hard in one county and quickly moving to another to avoid detection. The roving gangs are stealing all makes and models of GPS control units, together with screens and domes.”
Ms Davidson said the thieves had been taking advantage of the busy harvest to identify targets as farmers were working flat out to get crops in and use tractors and combine harvesters away from the farmstead.
“These thefts are incredibly disruptive to farmers particularly when several GPS kits are taken in one raid,” she said.
“GPS is a vital tool for modern farming and without the sophisticated equipment to guide tractors and combines, harvesting and cultivating work can be subject to delays while new equipment is sourced and fitted.”
Farmers are being urged to watch out for signs of strangers in farmyards and fields checking out kit – before returning to steal it armed with knowledge of where tractors are kept, and any security measures in place.
DC Chris Piggott, of the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS), said GPS theft was an international crime. “There are also home-grown criminals stealing GPS systems as people turn to criminal activity to make a quick buck.”
With funding from NFU Mutual, NaVCIS is supporting operations to tackle organised agricultural machinery crime and is working with overseas police forces to disrupt international crime gangs.
DC Piggott said: “German Police have infiltrated a Lithuanian Organised Crime Gang in conjunction with UK Police assistance, seizing 80 suspected stolen GPS devices from across Europe, 23 of these have been identified as units taken in the UK.
“These criminals are well-organised and know what they are looking for – so it’s essential that farmers remove GPS kit when possible when it’s not in use and store it securely. It’s also well worth beefing up security in farmyards, machinery sheds and on tractors.”
PIN security codes on GPS kit should be activated where possible. On older models without PIN security, farmers should mark kit with farm names and postcodes in indelible ink to make it harder for thieves to sell on.
“High demand for GPS equipment is fuelling this type of crime and we are urging people to do careful checks on the sellers before purchasing second-hand items online,” said DC Piggott.
“Anyone considering a purchase should get photos showing serial numbers before parting with any money and check with the manufacturer that it is not recorded stolen on their system before completing the transaction.
“We also urge farmers to report suspicious activity including drones over farms, vehicles visiting that are not known to the farm, or trespassers on 101, and if a crime is taking place call 999.”
Advice to protect GPS systems
- Activate PIN security on GPS kit with your own unique number if available
- If your system is not PIN enabled, mark your postcode to deter thieves and trace your property back to you
- Keep tractors and combines with GPS fitted stored out of sight when possible
- Remove GPS kit when possible from tractors and other machinery and store it securely when not in use
- Record serial numbers and photograph your kit
- Check serial numbers of second-hand kit offered for sale
- Report sightings of suspicious activity in fields and farmyards to police
Source: NFU Mutual