Farmers warned to ‘pin it or pen it’ as GPS thieves target countryside

Farmers are being warned to ‘pin it or pen it’ when it comes to expensive GPS systems as the countryside continues to be a target for tech-savvy criminal gangs.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) are urging farmers to make the most of pin enabled security if available on their GPS kit, or to get back to basics and indelibly daub postcodes onto their systems.

It comes as international criminal gangs are increasingly stealing to order for re-sale across the globe.

According to NFU Mutual’s 2020 Rural Crime Report, the issue cost the UK £54 million in 2019, an increase of almost 9% on the previous year
According to NFU Mutual’s 2020 Rural Crime Report, the issue cost the UK £54 million in 2019, an increase of almost 9% on the previous year
(Image: NFU Mutual)

According to NFU Mutual’s 2020 Rural Crime Report, rural crime cost the South West a total of £6.6 million in 2019, a higher than average rise of 14% from the previous year.

Nationally, the cost of rural crime has reached £54 million, an increase of almost 9% and its highest level for eight years.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “From Scotland to the South West of England, North Wales to Norfolk via the North West, we are receiving even more reports of all makes and models of GPS being stolen from farms and machinery dealerships across the UK.

“GPS technology plays such a vital role in modern day farming and thefts of systems have been debilitating for farmers who have been hit during the busy harvest period. While replacement systems can be sourced, farmers are working to tight weather windows and it takes time to get up and running again.

“The thieves clearly know what they are looking for and we are getting reports of determined criminal gangs using drones to scope out farms, or carefully planning routes around CCTV surveillance to avoid being caught. The feeling of being watched and targeted is adding to feelings of anxiety for those living and working in isolated areas.”

Published last month, the 2020 Rural Crime Report highlights that for the second year running, the rocketing costs are being driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high-value tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles – accounting for a UK increase of nearly 25% to £9.3 million on agricultural vehicles. Within that total, quad bike and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) theft rose by 21% to £3.1 million.

There was a spike in reports of livestock - mainly sheep and lambs - being stolen in April this year, according to figures gathered by NFU Mutual
There was a spike in reports of livestock – mainly sheep and lambs – being stolen in April this year, according to figures gathered by NFU Mutual
(Image: Richard Austin)

Livestock theft also rose in 2019 with the cost going up 9% to £3 million. Well-organised gangs taking large numbers of sheep, which are thought to enter the food chain illegally, are believed to be driving the increase. The report adds that farmers continue to be affected by rustling, with the initial figures suggesting a spike of nearly 15% year-on-year in April 2020.

DC Chris Piggott, from NaVCIS, said: “Our message to help protect your property is simple – pin it or pen it. So, if you have pin enabled technology to protect your GPS system, make sure it’s up and running and if not, daub your postcode onto kit using indelible ink. It might not look pretty but it’s a big deterrent to thieves who are stealing systems to sell on across the world. Anything that is identifiable and will trace the kit back to its owner will immediately put the thieves off.

“Also make sure you report any suspicious sightings to police, which can help build up a picture and share intelligence with other forces.”

Farmers buying second hand kit are being urged not to inadvertently buy stolen systems from what appear to be bona fide online sellers. Buyers are being advised to rigorously check where the systems have come from if buying from outside a dealership, and to be suspicious of anything that has had serial numbers removed.

As the main insurer of the UK’s farmers, NFU Mutual is working with police and tractor manufacturers to tackle this worrying new crime trend. Although all makes and models of GPS are being stolen, to help the checking process, John Deere has a system enabling farmers to call their local dealership to check the serial number of its popular StarFire GPS system. The company’s database includes a marker for stolen equipment – but stresses that not all John Deere thefts are reported to it, and that the system cannot provide proof that equipment offered for sale online is legitimate.

If you are unfortunate to have John Deere equipment stolen, the theft can be reported to local John Deere dealers so it can be logged in the system. To make it more difficult for criminals to sell-on stolen StarFire GPS systems, John Deere included a PIN security feature in its StarFire 6000 series, launched in February 2019.

Cornwall Live