Digger ‘ringing’ racket foiled by UAE discovery

Cloned UAE telehandler sparks off international identity theft investigation.

  • E-Mail
By  Sean Cronin Published  May 7, 2005

The identity plates of construction machinery in the UAE are being cloned and attached to stolen kit overseas. The scam was uncovered as part of a two year police investigation which has culminated with the sentencing of five men in the UK, who were jailed for a total of eighteen and a half years. But the investigation may never have started had it not been for the chance discovery of a telehandler in the UK, which bore the same plates as another machine that was legitimately owned in the UAE. The practice — known as ‘ringing’ — has been linked to criminal gangs moving stolen cars for many years. Now the same methods are being used to move stolen construction machinery around the world in what is a multi-billion dollar racket. And the booming UAE construction sector provides the perfect cover for the increasingly sophisticated methods used by the identity thieves. The UK-based plant-tracking group, TER, alerted police to the scam in 2002. The National Criminal Intelligence Service in turn picked up the case and have been working on the investigation with Essex police for the last two years. TER spokesman Tim Purbrick, said: “Three years ago we noticed an increase in the theft of telehandlers, so we started gathering intelligence and the NCIS got involved. One of the telehandlers that was located was bearing the identity of a machine that had been sold in the UAE. So we got contacts there to photograph the machine and email the pictures to us.” Earlier, TER had noticed a rise in the reported theft of telehandlers. This type of theft has been doubling year on year in the UK market; by last year, 153 telehandlers had been stolen. Last January, Essex Police and TER began a four month covert operation, during which time one of their surveillance vehicles was deliberately rammed. Seventeen Manitou, Caterpillar and JCB telehandlers, and one JCB 714 dumper truck, worth around £500 000 (AED 3.5 million) were identified and recovered in the operation. But mystery still surrounds how the plate details of the UAE telehandler became known to the criminal gang in the UK. “This raises serious questions about how confidential details of legitimately owned construction machinery in the UAE is falling into the wrong hands,” said Purbrick. He continued: “The re-identification not only included alterations to the serial number plate and the stamped-in number, but even to the engine and axle numbers.” The five men admitted to charges of conspiracy to steal, theft, robbery and handling of stolen plant worth around £688 000 (AED4.7 million) when they appeared at Southend Crown Court.

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code