Organised criminal gangs tour Bucks countryside to steal GPS kit worth tens of thousands
In some cases, victims of GPS theft are being targeted a second time, once thieves know the layout of their farms
Roving criminal gangs are touring the Bucks countryside to steal tractor global positioning systems (GPS) worth tens of thousands of pounds.
Following recent raids on farms across the UK, including Buckinghamshire, the rural insurance company NFU Mutual is advising farmers to be extra vigilant, remove systems where possible and return machinery to locked sheds or out of sight.
NFU Mutual and the National Farmers' Union (NFU) are also calling for farmers to watch out for signs of strangers in farmyards and fields checking out what kit is there, before returning to steal it.
In some cases, victims of GPS theft are being targeted a second time by thieves who already know the layout of their farms.
NFU Mutual saw the national cost of claims for GPS almost double in 2020 to £2.9 million and says determined gangs using new tactics could lead to even higher losses this year.
Senior agent for Bucks, Mark Wheeler, said: “Criminal gangs are hitting farms hard in one area 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.
"The thieves have been taking advantage of the busy time in the farming calendar, spotting targets as farmers work flat out using tractors away from the farmstead.
“These thefts are incredibly disruptive to farmers - particularly when several GPS kits are taken in one raid.
"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.”
NFU chairman for Berks, Bucks and Oxon, Richard Manners said: “We’d advise all our farmer and grower members to take steps to protect their businesses from organised criminals who are intent on stealing high-value GPS kits.
"It is common sense to heed the latest advice from NFU Mutual, to remain vigilant and to put in place simple measures to thwart thieves.
"A little bit of extra time spent now photographing and marking your equipment, before securing kit and machinery at the end of each working day, could help to avoid major disruption to farming operations.”
DC Chris Piggott, who co-ordinates the agricultural vehicle crime unit at the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS), said: “GPS theft is an international crime, with countries across the globe experiencing thefts and attempts to sell stolen equipment back into the farming sector.
"There are also homegrown criminals stealing GPS systems as people turn to criminal activity to make a quick buck.”
With funding from NFU Mutual, NaVCIS is supporting operations across the country to tackle organised agricultural machinery crime and is working with overseas police forces to disrupt international crime gangs.
Recently, 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.
"Twenty-three 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 to make it harder for thieves to operate.”
NFU Mutual, the NFU and NaVCIS are urging farmers to activate PIN number security codes on their GPS kit.
On older models without PIN security, marking kit with farm names and postcodes in indelible ink or forensically can make it harder for thieves to sell on and help police and potential buyers spot stolen equipment.
DC Piggott added: “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.
“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.”