Six in ten tradespeople have encountered suspected stolen tool sellers

Stolen tools

Six in ten (60%) tradespeople say that they have been approached by or seen someone they suspected were selling stolen second-hand tools, according to new research by Direct Line business insurance.

Suspicious sellers

Almost one in three (29%) tradespeople became aware of the suspicious seller through word of mouth, while just over a quarter encountered them on a website, social media or app selling second-hand goods. Shockingly, almost one in five (18%) said the person selling the tools was a friend.

The overwhelming majority (91%) immediately refused to buy the tools offered to them by the suspicious seller. Just under one quarter (24%) notified a trade authority, while 23% informed the police.

But a very small minority of tradespeople could be contributing to the cycle of tool theft. One in ten still bought the tools despite their suspicions and over one quarter (26%) considered purchasing them but didn’t go through with it.

These findings hammer home the scale of tool theft across the country, which can have costly consequences for tradespeople, disrupting livelihoods and hitting them hard in the pocket.

The top ten regions for tradespeople encountering suspicious sellers were as follows:

Table One: Percentage of tradespeople who were approached by or saw a suspicious tools seller by region.


Percentage of tradespeople who were approached by or saw someone they suspected were selling stolen second-hand tools


Bristol 88%
Manchester 84%
Sheffield 82%
Nottingham 81%
Leeds 75%
Belfast 74%
Brighton 72%
Cardiff 71%
London 70%
Edinburgh 63%


Source: Direct Line business insurance, 2021

Tradesperson concern

The study also revealed increasing concern among tradespeople about the scale and frequency of tool theft. This is influencing their purchasing decisions and heightening stress levels.

In the event their tools were lost, damaged or stolen, one quarter of tradespeople would buy second-hand tools online as replacements. The highest number of this group (39%) would do so because tool theft is so common that they would not risk buying brand new tools unless absolutely necessary.

Nearly half (46%) worry frequently about the problem, and more than eight in ten (81%) describe themselves as alert when it comes to protecting their equipment against theft. Despite this level of awareness and concern, one in ten do not have insurance cover in place.

Consumer attitude towards second-hand tools

The second-hand tool market, where equipment is available more cheaply and is generally much quicker to source, is helping to drive tool theft across the country.

Nearly a third of UK consumers (30%) have bought tools second-hand, with 16% doing so on multiple occasions, showing the strength of the market.

Nearly half of these buyers (44%) have acquired tools from a car boot sale, 34% have got them from a friend and almost a third (30%) have bought them through an official website selling second-hand goods.

A major problem is that many consumers aren’t able to spot the signs of a suspicious seller. Only 30% believe they could identify stolen tools on the market.

There is also a general lack of awareness and concern. More than three in ten (35%) were not worried about the prospect of buying stolen tools. This reinforces the need for more education and the importance of tradespeople ensuring their equipment is properly protected.

Direct Line Tools Essentials service comes with Tools and Business Equipment insurance and helps to tradespeople replace their essential tools within 24 hours, with an upfront faster payment of up to £1,500, subject to a few checks. This product addresses tradespeople’s concerns that insurance claims processes can be too slow, with 27% stating that this is why they turn to second-hand tools.

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