A Lithuanian organised crime gang has been found to have stolen 80 Global Positioning Systems (GPS) devices and 23 were stolen from UK farms.

This comes at a time when Wiltshire and Dorset farms are being hit especially hard by thieves.

DC Chris Piggott, who co-ordinates the agricultural vehicle crime unit at the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS), said: “GPS theft is an international crime, with countries across the globe experiencing thefts and attempts to sell stolen equipment back into the farming sector.

"There are also homegrown-criminals stealing GPS systems as people turn to criminal activity to make a quick buck.”

With funding from NFU Mutual, NaVCIS is supporting operations across the country to tackle organised agricultural machinery crime and is working with overseas police forces to disrupt international crime gangs.

DC Piggott said: “German police have infiltrated a Lithuanian Organised Crime Gang in conjunction with UK police assistance, seizing 80 suspected stolen GPS devices from across Europe, 23 of these have been identified as units taken in the UK.

“These criminals are well-organised and know what they are looking for - so it’s essential that farmers remove GPS kit when possible when it’s not in use and store it securely.

"It’s also well worth beefing up security in farmyards, machinery sheds and on tractors to make it harder for thieves to operate.”

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NFU Mutual is advising farmers to watch out for signs of strangers in farmyards and fields checking out what kit they have, before returning to steal it, armed with knowledge of where tractors are kept and what security measures are in place.

Samantha Weeks, senior agent for the insurer in Warminster, said: “Criminal gangs are hitting farms hard in one area and quickly moving to another to avoid detection.

“The roving gangs are stealing all makes and models of GPS control units, together with screens and domes.

"The thieves have been taking advantage of the busy time in the farming calendar, spotting targets as farmers work flat out using tractors and combine harvesters away from the farmstead."

NFU Mutual and NaVCIS are urging farmers to activate PIN number security codes on their GPS kit.

On older models without PIN security, marking kit with farm names and postcodes in indelible ink or forensically can make it harder for thieves to sell on and help police and potential buyers spot stolen equipment.

“High demand for GPS equipment is fuelling this type of crime and we are urging people to do careful checks on the sellers before purchasing second-hand items online,” said DC Piggott.

“Anyone considering a purchase should get photos showing serial numbers before parting with any money and check with the manufacturer that it is not recorded stolen on their system before completing the transaction.

“We also urge farmers to report suspicious activity including drones over farms, vehicles visiting that are not known to the farm, or trespassers on 101, and if a crime is taking place call 999.”