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I came across an old thread on the Contractor Talk forum where a member asked an interesting question: “Have you ever walked into a pawn shop looking for tools… and saw some of your own tools that had been stolen?” The answers are what you’d expect. In some cases, yes; others had found their stolen tools at the pawn shop. Many even bought their own tools to recover them.

Some of you might be thinking “What jackass would BUY tools that are legally yours?” And if some of the other forum posts are to be believed, some states now allow you to recover stolen goods from pawn shops in a pretty easy fashion. But I have to admit that this didn’t faze me at all. I can totally see buying back your own tools.

Sometimes you just become attached to a tool, especially if it’s something that was handed down to you, or something that was with you in tough times. Musicians have this same kind of connection to their instruments. Why wouldn’t craftsmen?

Anyway, I’d love to hear what you do to protect your tools. Do you keep a registry of serial numbers to help prove to cops that a pawn special is really yours? Do you keep a photo inventory? Or do you just hope for the best? Have any of you ever had experience with actually trying to recover stolen tools?

(Thanks, jm3, for the great CC-licensed photo.)

Ever Bought Your Own Stolen Tools? [contractortalk.com]


25 Responses to Buying Your Own Stolen Tools?

  1. Ben says:

    im thinking of putting something on my tools, i wonder whats is the easiest and best for insurance purposes

  2. Dave says:

    @Ben, I think they say your phone number engraved in the tool with say, a Dremel….

  3. Aaron says:

    I have a photo of every tool worth more than $50. Its actually two photos, one of the tool and one of the serial number. Printed them out at some cheap place like Walmart and keep them in my lock box.

  4. Mike47 says:

    I’ve been cleaned out twice in my adult lifetime. Second time it happened, I had my driver’s license number engraved on just about everything. Never recovered any of it. Now, with budget cuts and police layoffs, the PD won’t even take a report on stolen goods. I’ve switched my thinking on security to lots of lights on sensors, alarm systems, gated & locked alley, and firearms training. I’m spreading the word that I’m scared of prowlers (“fear for my life” is the leagal term) and I’ll shoot them to defend myself and my family. My neighbor, retired Marine sniper, shares my thinking.

  5. Mike says:

    I also have photos of my more valuable tools. Anything with plastic on it like a cordless drill has my name branded into it. The branding iron was a gift from my wife a coupe years ago.

    On top of that, I have my driveway / front yard covered by a little camera and SD card DVR that starts recording 1 minute clips after sensing motion. I set this up after coming back from vacation and finding my car keyed.

    I keep my workshop locked up tight, and that’s what gives me the most peace of mind…that and watchful, stay-at-home retirees living on both sides of me. The backdoor is barred like a medieval gate with the wooden beam that drops into steel brackets, and double padlocks on the garage door.

  6. IronHerder says:

    I guess that I’m surprised that thieves wouldn’t travel far enough to find a “safe” pawnshop or sell on CraigsList. Maybe that’s the difference between opportunistic or desperate thieves and serious thieves.

    (For those readers who naively want comments to relate directly to the post, please skip the rest of my contribution.)

    Because I am so good at the obvious, I will point out that deterrence is better than recovery. And so workshops are locked and tools at work sites are secured. Sometimes to no avail, but it helps. What I would like to do is create a situation such that would-be thieves understand immediately after gaining access that they should take their business elsewhere. (Hey, I can’t solve everybody’s problems.)

    Solutions that won’t scare away intruders immediately: 1. tools marked from one end to the other, because that won’t stop a thief who’s in a hurry and who’s working in dim light. 2. warning decals at the points of entrance that try to dissuade burglars. 3. alarms probably that won’t be effective after a few accidental, but nearly unavoidable, triggering events, given that the neighbors will wish for the return of quiet instead of dialing 911.

    The only possibility that I think might work would be to show the criminal, in real time, that he or she can be identified. I would have a security camera feed its signal to an impossible-to-ignore closed circuit display located right by the tools. (I suppose that bright room lights with a hidden “off” switch would also be required.) When the trespasser sees himself or herself on television, I guessing that they’ll abruptly leave, an outcome that seems more likely than the thief sticking around long enough to disable the offending camera, especially because the thief won’t know if additional cameras are in use or where the video recording equipment is. (Actually, because the point is to scare the intruder away and because I’m cheap, I probably wouldn’t buy video recording equipment. I’d just let the thief assume that there is a record of his or her visit.)

    As a parting shot, I think that I can safely predict that at some point the comments for this post will turn into a discussion of “Made in America” security systems vs. “Made in China.” Not quite as tiresome as discussions about the pros and cons of pegboard, but close.

  7. Jerry says:

    In Oregon – at least as of a few years ago – if you spotted one of your stolen tools and could prove it was yours (personal marking, serial, etc.) you could have the store clerk remove it from sales for 3 business days BUT you also had to have filed a police report with the exact item listed at the time of the theft.
    Most of my tools have been engraved. I use two letters indicating my state (OR) then my drivers license number followed by the letters “DL”. This is recommended by law enforcement. Starting with letters, ending with letters and numbers in between make it hard to alter the engraving and the state indicator tells where that item likely came from.
    I use one of those vibrating engravers on metal stuff and a soldering iron to engrave into plastic parts.

  8. Jim K. says:

    I too live in an area where they’re no longer taking reports for stolen goods. (Funny they don’t seem to mind taking money for recovered stolen goods at the police auction. But I digress.) I too engrave my tools/brand them and otherwise mark them but that’s mostly so they’re easy to spot at work sites when they grow legs and migrate into others’ tool boxes. I’m with those that indicate prevention is the best overall solution. That said, around here the thieves are pretty bold and ignore many preventative measures so I just figure to do my best and assume that one day I’ll be another statistic replacing my tools.

  9. Jay says:

    I paint most of my tools hot PINK!

    Yup, guys joke about my girly tools all the time. It’s kinda funny, actually.

    The beauty of pink tools is that nobody else wants to touch them, let alone get caught actually using them. Not to mention that they repel theives like the plague.

    It also makes my tools extremely easy to find on a worksite in even the most cluttered environments.

    Just don’t let your wife borrow them.

  10. Frank says:

    I’m with IronHerder on the use of cameras. I have them in plain sight (and high up) aimed at the garage door and one as soon as you come into my work shop. All have live feed to the monitor sitting on top of my tool box. Cheap insurance / deterrent even if it’s not really recording.

    As for Jay’s comment, I’ve also dipped allot of my tools in pink rubber or paint. Keeps people from asking if they can barrow my tools.

  11. old as dirt says:

    Sign on entrance says no trespassing protected by Mr.Smith,Wesson and Browning.
    Survivors will be prosecuted.

  12. Don Miller says:

    Beyond locking the doors and motion activated lights I depend on a dog. A big loud dog.

  13. Brau says:

    I’ve never had the fortune to spot anything that was stolen from me. Don’t know what I would do if I did. Bicycles, cymbals, tools, microphones, cords – none of the covert marking schemes ever paid off.

    I had some new Milwaukee power tools lifted while I went for a coffee once and never let my tools out of my sight again. Being mobile, I try not to buy the hottest brand names, opting for lesser brands that are of decent quality. This is one reason I’m big on Craftsman or B&D – they’re good enough, not so tempting to thieves, cheap to replace if they disappear. Truth be told, some of the cheaper tools have surprised me. I’m also not averse to making them ugly or unpopular by painting them pink, fluorescent, or taping them up as if they’re broken or like the cables are repaired, etc. My car is fully insured, has less to lose, so it sits out in the carport while the van goes inside the garage so I won’t have to worry at night.

  14. IronHerder says:

    One more time, maybe I’ll get it right and let it rest.

    Again with the obvious, marking tools with identification of any sort doesn’t seem to help much. Even coloring tools pink is more useful for keeping your buddies honest and finding dropped tools in a patch of weeds than preventing felony-level theft. Because thieves working in the dark and working in a hurry aren’t worried about aesthetics.

    Less obvious (to me, initially) is that well-marked and noticeably-marked tools may be recovered very infrequently just because they are well-marked. While criminals are notoriously stupid, they’re probably smart enough to deposit identifiable tools in the nearest dumpster. Meaning that for an identification scheme to help, it either has to deter the theft in the first place or enable recovery by being subtle enough to avoid making the thief nervous.

    One other fix would be to address the demand side. If no one bought used tools anonymously (pawn shops, Craigslist, etc.), the lack of a market would help. Now that I’ve talked myself into this corner, I better take the pledge: “I will, from now on, only buy used tools at reputable auctions or tag sales or estate sales.” For me, no more tools from pawn shops, etc. Moreover, anyone who complains about tool theft should follow suit. Or shut up. Don’t complain while providing a market for stolen tools. ‘Nuff said.

  15. Steve says:

    I sell tools on craigslist. Legit tools. Tools I have bought from auctions or got from family (that are broken). I fix them up, a fun hobby. Then get rid of the ones I don’t want/need. Eliminating the secondary market is not a real solution to tool theft. I am not buying from dudes at the depot, but not all craigs list sellers are peddling hot tools. Infact, its a great way to in effect share tools. I am not a tradesman. I don’t need a miter saw everyday. I can get one when i know I will need one for a project, and convert it back into cash when i am done. Even if I knock 20 buck off it when I sell it, I have rented a tool for as long as I need it, for 20 bucks. I accumulate more then I need, but this pitch worked with my wife. Im saying craigs list is useful and has its place. But yeah, there are hot tools there. Buyer beware. Dont buy hot tools, it can get you charged with a crime. Even if the price is good, walk if you think its shady.

  16. Mac says:

    Ironic, a guy in a neighboring town had a good deal of scrap metal stolen from his property. Being at least halfway inteligent, he went to the scrapyards close by… there was his stuff. (Ending to this story: Crooks were caught, dude didn’t have to buy his stuff back.)

    Most tool thieves are not much different, they’re looking for what they can steal the fastest/easiest, flip the fastest/easiest, and at the most profit.

    These guys are of course different than the ones that are stealing tools at the jobsite because they like/need/want your titanium hammer. Markings on these tools help. As does pink.

    Back to the career crooks – any way you can make it as inconvenient as possible for them is a good thing. No offense to the other guy, but if your shop looks like too much time/too much risk, the random crook will move on to the other guy (who is an easier mark).

    Addressing the other side (demand) is a societal issue that cannot be solved here.

  17. Shy Guy says:

    Back in the 1980’s alot of the guys I worked with would engrave their Social Security # on their tool boxes, power tools etc. Since then everybody wants to keep their SS# private. Would this same idea be good to do with your State Drivers License ?

  18. Shy Guy says:

    As for security, a layed approach may be best. Outside: warning stickers, cameras,alarm, motion lights, strong doors locks etc. Instead of open shelves for expensive or important tools, how about another room or caged in area. Gang boxes bolted / locked down,etc. A month ago it was discussed how any lock can be defeated, But it’s still true that the harder you make it, the better the chance of keeping it. How about a hidden alarm horn inside the workshop ? It doesn’t even have to be very loud. The bad guys will realize that they won’t be able to hear the police or the rightful owner coming in.

  19. IronHerder says:

    Steve is of course correct, that sellers of used tools are most often honest, and that it is the buyers who should avoid suspicious wares. I myself am not very good at detecting suspicious goods, so it will continue to be my personal policy to buy used tools only from known sellers. My call for others to follow suit should not have seen the light of day.

    Mac is also correct, that the demand side cannot be solved by Toolmongers. The demand side was there way before Craigslist, and before pawn shops. Even so, I can avoid adding to the problem by being a careful buyer.

    I found Shy Guy’s comments to be very helpful, and I hope he continues to make contributions.

  20. Shy Guy says:

    “I found Shy Guy’s comments to be very helpful, and I hope he continues to make contributions.”
    Thanks IronHerder 🙂

  21. Toolfreak says:

    Those are some pretty shady pawn shops if they are just buying tools for cash and somehow don’t have the sellers info.

    Last I checked, most legit pawn shops take down the standard driver’s license info (Name, Address, DL#, Phone#, SS#, etc.) before paying out.

    Sure, they can use a fake ID, but same thing, only a shady (or perhaps clueless) pawn shop owner would accept it.

    Even if you can’t go after the thief, you can go after the pawn shop for possession/dealing in stolen goods. When shops get the message they will be shut down if they buy stolen property, they won’t buy stolen stuff, and the criminals will find it harder to benefit from their stupidity.

  22. Ron Sexton says:

    I have a list of the serial numbers for all power tools, plus I write the serial number on the manual, you know that little book that comes with the tool.

  23. Doug says:

    Any inventors out there? I’m thinking that micro-chipping expensive tools (just like your puppy) might work if pawn shops were required to scan stuff before purchase. Hell, everything else you buy has one of those little anti theft chips in it, just waiting for you to get too close to the store entrance so it can sound the alarm. Make some laws and outfit the pawnshops and PDs with the equipment to read the chips.

  24. hot to sue says:

    you dont have to look very far the find the thief just ask edward they say the best way to find a thief just look for a ex cop ! one that dont have the balls to be a real cop or at least a honest one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. Keith says:

    My dad sells Snap-on tools. He often gets robbed as people buy tools on credit and then leave town or just don’t pay. There is very little he can do about it other than turn them over to be harassed by credit collectors. He has come across stolen tools in Pawn Shops before. It really pisses off pawn store owners, because there is really nothing they can do about the thieves either, so they end up taking a hit. I think they may get some insurance money, but even that takes a while.My dad then has to wait for extended periods of time to collect the tools from “evidence” and then the tools are sometimes outdated and always only worth their used price. If the thieves don’t hide their stolen merchandise well enough, he can repossess it every now and then. Bottom line, justice is few and far between in a nation where criminals are presumed innocent until proven guilty and police and business owners are presumed guilty.

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