Stolen tractors used as criminal currency

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Farmers are being warned to ramp up security as demand for agricultural machinery is increasing from criminals across the world.

Speaking ahead of a Rural Crime event in Ayrshire on October 5, Robbie Wallace from NFU Mutual’s Kilmarnock Agency, said: ‘Through NFU Mutual’s work to combat agri-vehicle crime, we know that tractors, telehandlers and quads are currently in high demand from organised crime networks.

‘They are using stolen goods as a form of currency following tougher money laundering legislation.’

The ‘Tackling Rural Crime Together – Back to Basics’ event, which has been organised by NFU Scotland at Dumfries House, will include a presentation from NFU Mutual’s Kilmarnock office on rural crime trends and agricultural-vehicle theft.

As the main insurer of Scotland’s countryside, NFU Mutual is part of the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) and has invested more than £135,000 to fund the scheme.

Tractor, telehandler and quad theft costs in Scotland have fallen by almost half in the three years since NFU Mutual, Police Scotland and other partners including NFU Scotland joined forces to tackle farm machinery theft.

However, Robbie Wallace said it was no time for complacency.

He added: ‘Farm vehicle theft is big business for the organised gangs who are stealing expensive vehicles and farm equipment and either cloning it for sale here, or shipping it across the world.

‘A new breed of brazen and determined thieves is using a combination of brute force and technological knowhow to target the countryside.’

NFU Mutual works closely with the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS), the Plant and Agricultural National Intelligence Unit (PANIU) and the police to trace stolen tractors, which have been found in the UK, Europe and as far afield as Africa and the Far East.

Two of the most recent vehicles to be repatriated, to Scotland, by NFU Mutual were a Manitou telehandler and a John Deere tractor worth £96,000, which were seized in Eastern Europe following a coordinated operation.

Despite being given fake identities, the vehicle details were circulated through the police and specialist theft registers which led to their detection and recovery in Lithuania.

As well as offering workshops on how to protect vehicles and property, the  event will include sessions on cybercrime, avoiding commonplace scams and what to do if you witness wildlife crime on your farm.

Encouraging all members to register and attend by calling 0131 472 4000, regional manager Christine Cuthbertson said: ‘Thieves and scammers are becoming increasingly devious when it comes targeting farm and rural businesses.

‘A recent cybercrime incident in the region robbed one farmer of thousands and this incident must serve as a sharp reminder to all to be alert at all times.

‘Whether it is your bank account, your property or your pick-up, the event at Dumfries House will offer back to basics guidance on how to protect what is yours.’

Chief Superintendent John McKenzie, Chair of SPARC, said: ‘Across Scotland, rural partners and police have worked extremely hard and the continued downward trend of crime figures in rural communities is linked to this approach.

‘The close working with partner organisations means that we can quickly respond to emerging trends and crime hot spots and target those who pursue criminal activity in rural communities.’