PLASA’s Fraud And Theft Alert System Proves Itself

The number of actual thefts and attempted thefts of motion picture equipment around the world continues at an alarming rate. This summer has seen attempted or actual thefts in New York, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Portland, Boston, Miami, Winter Park, London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Johannesburg.

Collecting and distributing information about attempted and actual thefts is one of several ways an association of companies are now mobilizing to protect the industry from this decade-long pandemic. The Production Equipment Rental Group (PERG) and the Association of Studio and Production Equipment Companies (ASPEC) are both special interest groups within PLASA, the international entertainment trade association. PERG is an alliance of more than 50 professional rental companies in the US, Canada and the Americas. ASPEC represents similar camera and lighting companies the UK.

In April of this year, at PERG’s annual meeting at NAB, the two groups launched a trio of alert services to arm rental managers with timely information and help them better evaluate potential clients: Missing Equipment Alerts, Questionable Customer Alerts and New Customer Inquiries. The months since have shown that PLASA’s Fraud and Theft Prevention Network works. It was the alert network that prevented a theft in July from a camera rental company in Atlanta, to the tune of $300,000 in gear.

A sizable percentage of the stolen equipment is taken by sophisticated international thieves, often posing credibly as producers renting equipment. In 2013 two criminals, equipped with assumed identities, fake passports and credit cards, temporary insurance, and knowledge of professional equipment hit three camera houses — in Tel Aviv, Chicago and Baltimore — in the span of just seven days. Millions of dollars in state of the art motion picture cameras, lenses and expensive accessories are stolen each year.

The rental sector has been hard hit. In many cases these incidents are technically not theft, but fraud, resulting in uninsured losses for the rental companies. At the same time, insurance companies have also had the pay out large amounts. As the payouts continue year after year, upward pressure on insurance rates has made theft a major concern for the rental community, no matter how well protected they are from theft.

In the Atlanta case, the company received an equipment order from a client they did not know. This rental company posted a New Customer Inquiry through the PLASA system and received a response from a fellow rental house on the other side of the Atlantic within fifteen minutes. It informed the inquirer that the potential client rented from their partner in another country and the equipment was never returned and is considered stolen. The end result is that a large theft was prevented and the information enabled law enforcement to take action. (The case is still ongoing, so the details are not yet available.)

The PLASA system has also helped identify stolen equipment offered for sale overseas. Using the missing equipment list to instantly check the serial number and description of equipment, companies have helped law enforcement to connect the dots.

PERG and ASPEC are focused on expanding and strengthening the system. They are actively seeking more companies to enroll in the alert program. They recently brought a proposal to the major insurance underwriters to back a project to automate and improve the PLASA alert system. PERG is developing a digest of rental procedures and physical security measures to provide to their members. They have had security experts present ideas to their members, and held webinars with insurance authorities.

PERG’s role within the industry has grown in the past few years, from a group that provided networking functions for peers, to a group devoted to bringing production partners together and finding common solutions to industry wide issues. In the past few years the group has tackled thorny issues like red-lining of rental Terms and Conditions, forming a joint committee with the AICP to find a mutually beneficial solution.

By putting the right tools in the hands of camera and lighting rental companies, PLASA hopes to tip the balance, to reduce the incentive and raise the risk for criminals and criminal organizations.