Farmers are being encouraged to boost security in their farmyards as thieves increasingly target expensive GPS kits following the easing of lockdown.
In recent weeks thefts of expensive global positioning system (GPS) equipment has been reported in East Anglia, the Midlands and North West of England.
Opportunistic criminals are stealing all makes and models of GPS control units, together with screens and domes.
Rural insurer NFU Mutual is warning farmers to increase their security amid a 'spring surge' in thefts.
“We’re seeing a resurgence in GPS theft in some areas and we are concerned it could spread to other parts of the UK,” said Bob Henderson, who leads NFU Mutual’s Agricultural Engineering Field Team.
“It’s worryingly similar to last year’s unprecedented surge in GPS theft, which saw equipment stolen from farms across the UK.”
DC Chris Piggott co-ordinates the agricultural vehicle crime unit at the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS).
He said GPS theft was 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," he added.
NaVCIS is supporting operations across the UK to tackle organised agricultural machinery crime and is working with overseas police forces to disrupt international crime gangs.
Asked about reasons behind the trend, Mr Henderson said thieves were taking advantage of increased spring activity on farms to identify targets.
"With lockdown easing, criminals may feel able to travel without risk of being stopped," he explained.
“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 farm yards, machinery sheds and on tractors to make it harder for thieves to operate.”
Both organisations are urging farmers across the country with GPS systems to activate PIN number security codes.
On older models without PIN security, marking kit with farm names and postcodes in indelible ink can make it harder for thieves to sell on and help police spot stolen equipment.
“Demand for GPS equipment is fuelling this type of crime and we are urging people to think twice before purchasing second-hand items online,” said DC Piggott.
“Although police have shut some bogus sellers down, they are emerging again under false names and purporting to be UK sellers.
“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."
How can I increase GPS security?
To protect GPS systems from thieves, NFU Mutual has issued farmers the following advice:
• 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