Some Thief Stole My Tools From My Van! Here’s what I did about it.

Some Thief Stole My Tools From My Van! Here’s what I did about it.

I’m not a tradesman. I don’t make my living in construction or home remodeling but I do like to fix things and occasionally I tackle a larger job like building a shed. Last summer I gathered up my assortment of tools – cordless drill & circular saw, tool box of assorted screw drivers & wrenches, carpenter’s level, etc. and put them in my van. On the way to the property where I was building my shed I stopped off at my local big-box home improvement store for some joist hangers and nails. When I got back to my van I put my key in the lock as usual and climbed inside.

The very first thing I noticed upon entering the cab was the distinct stench of heavy body odor and stale cigarette smoke lingering in the air. I thought this was odd as no one but myself had been in my van for several weeks. I quickly looked around and noticed that my glove box was ajar. Then it hit me. Someone had been inside my van just minutes ago! When I looked in the back of my van all of my tools were gone! I was pissed!

I looked around the parking lot and saw nothing suspicious. The thief was long gone. I suspect the thief just grabbed what he could quickly grab and then made his get-a-way. I looked at my door locks and they showed no signs of having been tampered with. Had I simply forgotten to lock my door or did the thief somehow jimmy the lock open without damaging it? I don’t know.

Worthless Security Cameras

I went back into the store and asked to speak to someone from “security.” The clerk called a Loss Prevention Agent and after I explained that my tools were just stolen from my van he agreed to search the store’s security surveillance video to see if we could spot the person or persons who broke into my van. You would think that a major nationwide retailer would have security camera coverage of their entire parking lot, but I was surprised to see that their security cameras only captured video of the entrance and did not extend very far out into the parking lot where I had parked. I had just lost around a thousand dollars of tools and had zero suspect info. I was crestfallen.

Millions & millions of dollars Lost

No one knows for sure but each year in the United States millions and millions of dollars worth of tools – maybe even a BILLION DOLLARS worth of tools, are stolen from vehicles and job sites. Many of these thefts are not reported as there is often no real suspect information and the loss is not covered by insurance. According to the National Crime Information Bureau (NCIB), as much as $1 billion a year is lost nationwide due to theft of construction equipment and tools–and the recovery rate is less than 20 percent.


It cost over $2,000 to replace my stolen tools and I vowed to never to be a victim again. I wanted to prevent and deter any future theft and if someone was brazen enough to steal my tools again, I wanted a fighting chance of catching the thief.

Here’s what I did:

  • I bought an engraver and engraved my name and phone number in several places on every tool. I engraved: “This tool belongs to Howard F. Jeb phone XXXXXXXXXX. If you are about to buy this tool, it is stolen.” Now, my tools might look weird with all this etching on them, but they function just fine and it won’t be easy for a crook to sell them. Hopefully, a crook will leave them alone once he sees the very prominent engravings.
  • I looked into placing a small GPS tracking device on my more valuable tools but found that there are currently no reasonably priced tracking devices available. I looked at the Milwaukee “Tick” tracker and learned that it is really just a Bluetooth tracker intended to aid in finding misplaced tools. It is not small enough to hide on the tool and will not track the tool if it is moved beyond a 100-300 yard range. Even with all the advancements in GPS tracking no one has yet discovered how to squeeze a radio receiver, a microprocessor, a transmitter and a battery to run it, into a small enough size so you can hide a GPS tracker on or in a $250. circular saw.
  • I installed a metal divider behind my van’s driver’s seat and locked it with a sturdy padlock. Now, even if someone gets into the cab they will have to use tools to break into the cargo area.
  • I installed after market locks on all my van doors and security mesh on the back and side windows. This should act as a deterrent and cause the crook to move onto an easier target.

I also bought a little motion sensitive alarm online for $49.99 that synced to my smart phone. I attached this alarm on the inside of the driver’s door. When the door is opened, the alarm senses motion and instantly sends me an “alert” letting me know that motion has been detected. I now almost instantly know if someone opens my door. I will then rush out to my van and use all reasonable force necessary to subdue and detain the thief for authorities.

Some of my theft prevention efforts like the steel divider, fortified door locks, and window mesh cost me some money but the engraver and motion sensing alarm were relatively inexpensive. Overall, the cost of everything was worth it. I never again want to feel the sinking feeling of knowing that some creep invaded my vehicle and stole the tools that I bought with my hard earned money.

Howard F. Jeb is a subscriber to this blog. He wrote this article after his tools were stolen from his van. While Howard may not have realized it, the steps he took to prevent and deter any future thefts are a perfect example of the layered security approach – combining multiple mitigating security controls, with one security measure built upon the other, to protect an asset.

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George W. Babnick, is a 34 year law enforcement veteran with an extensive background in physical security, criminal and administrative investigations, training, school policing, supervision and management, and criminal forensics. He retired as a Captain in the Portland Oregon Police Bureau where he managed the Training, School Police, and Forensic Evidence Divisions. He holds criminal justice degrees from Portland Community College and Portland State University and a law degree from Northwestern California University School of Law, Sacramento California. Mr. Babnick is a longtime member of the Western Society of Criminology and is the author of articles on security and law enforcement, investigations, supervision and management, and risk management related to these subjects. As a physical security expert, George Babnick provides private physical security consultations across the United States and consults with clients outside the United States. He specializes in assessing security problems for small and medium businesses as well as select individuals. He offers independent, honest advice and expertise, with the goal of providing all clients with practical and cost-effective security solutions to enhance security and effectively manage business and personal security risks. Mr. Babnick is also a licensed Private Investigator and conducts investigations for attorneys, businesses, and individuals throughout the State of Oregon. To learn more about security consultation and investigative services offered, please visit Disclaimer: Nothing in any article on this blog should be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice should seek the counsel of an attorney licensed in their state.