Lumber Theft on the Rise Near and Far
In the May 25, 2021 e-edition of the Chronicle-Independent out of Camden, SC, Martin L. Cahn wrote an article based on the county crime report highlighting the theft of an estimated $145,000 worth of lumber from a Lugoff, SC business which happens to be less than 3 miles from my house. His account of the police report can be found at Martin Cahn at the Chronicle Independent.
Details of Lugoff, SC Lumber Theft
The business reported a lumber theft to the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) on May 4, 2021. The shortage was discovered by a Manager from the Tennessee branch of the company who then contacted the local branch manager in Lugoff, SC. During a regularly inventory process, they realized the number of lumber pieces in inventory was not correct. Such discrepancies had been noted before, but no action was taken at the time.
While questioning employees about the discrepancies, they were told by some to watch the security footage. When they did, the saw the company’s production manager loading an unusual amount of lumber onto another company’s truck. This happened on two separate occasions. On March 3, $6,000 worth of lumber was loaded and on March 15, $2,000 worth was loaded. There were red flags on both occasions. First of all, it is unusual for the production manager to load trucks and in both incidents, there didn’t seem to be any exchange of paperwork to document the sale.
Upon further investigation, it seemed this activity had been going on for years.
While they were reviewing the surveillance footage, the production manager happened to pass by, saw it and became quite irate. He turned in a paid time off request for the remainder of the week. At his departure, he left his keys and told some employees he was not coming back.
Further investigation points to the involvement of another employee in the thefts as well. He seems to be involved in the theft of culls, which are scraps or cut parts of lumber not sold with a prior purchase.
Both employees have been with the company for more than eight years. Neither has been charged as yet.
Lumber prices have more than tripled over the past year. With that kind of price hike, it is only a matter of time before thieves take action.
The internet has many stories of lumber thefts across the country. The thefts are brazen and target lumber wherever it can be found, including construction sites, businesses that sell lumber, and even truck stops.
Here are some examples I found from across the US and Canada with just a quick internet search:
- In Seattle, a man was arrested for trying to get away with more than $2,300 worth of wood from a locked lumber yard.
- In Tipton County, TN, police are searching for suspects who have been stealing lumber from home building sites across the state.
- In Fresno, CA, police are searching for a man accused of taking $1,600 worth of lumber from an area framing company.
- In Manchester, NJ, a man and a woman are seen on camera walking off with 2×4’s from a construction site.
- In Cape Coral, FL, three men were caught on surveillance video coming on a construction site around 5:00 a.m. They stole the items quickly and loaded them into a white trailer.
- In Calgary, a load of lumber was recently stolen from the Flying J truck stop in southwest Calgary. The long-haul truck driver has driven for 30 years and has never experienced a robbery of this magnitude. The truck had two trailers full of lumber. The loads were safely locked, but his entire shipment and both trailers had been stolen. The cost is around $80,000 for the lumber and $100,000 for the two trailers.
Even with camera surveillance, it has been difficult for police to track the thieves. They move quickly and the lumber is used or sold right away so evidence is hard to find.
Here are a few tips for preventing lumber theft:
- Use good lighting. Although some of the examples I found were in well-lit areas, and even in broad daylight, that doesn’t mean that many other thefts were prevented just because of the exposure. In many cases well lit areas are more of a deterrent. There are many lighting options, even for construction sites.
- Consider putting tracking devices on a large pallet of lumber (or other shipments of expensive materials for that matter). If a thief makes off with your lumber, you can provide their location to the police and perhaps get it back right away.
- Install fencing. Job site theft, like most theft, is a crime of opportunity. A fence is a natural deterrent since it makes your lumber look like a more difficult target. Keep in mind that sometimes the real loss is not in the theft of the actual product, but in destroying other property in the process of stealing. If you can encourage them to go elsewhere you may never know you’ve prevented a theft, but you won’t have the headache and shock of stolen goods either.
- Get surveillance and install signs warning would be-thieves. Once again, making your site an unattractive target is the best defense. A good surveillance system provides a complete picture of the construction site, warehouse, lumber yard or storage area. Furthermore, audit your footage on a random basis to add to increase deterrence among employees. And a good surveillance system will archive footage you can take to the police if there is a theft.
- Have an effective inventory management system that prevents one person from circumventing it to steal without your knowledge. In the first case in Lugoff, SC, it was the inventory system that eventually alerted them to the problem.
- Investigate when you first suspect there might be trouble. Taking action when they were first suspicious in the Lugoff, SC, case might have reduced the magnitude of the loss.
- Have a good way for employees to let you know if they see something suspicious. Generally, it is best to have an anonymous method such as a hotline in place. Encourage your employees to let you know what is happening and ensure them you will keep their information confidential. Again, in the Lugoff case, some of the employees knew what was happening and encouraged management to look at the surveillance footage.
- Move your lumber or any other material that suddenly rises in price to a more secure location if possible. When the prices go up, the thieves come out.