The fresh supply chain is not immune to cargo theft. The FBI has reported that cargo theft results in losses of $15 to $30 billion annually, and that the most targeted sector is food and drinks. This category accounted for 24% of incidents in 2015, followed by electronics at 14%. In the fresh produce sector, almonds are most likely to be stolen, followed by tomatoes, avocados, grapes, apples, bananas, mangoes, pineapple, pistachios and walnuts. Nuts, including three of the top ten produce items, collectively account for $10 million of the industry’s loss to theft. The food and beverage sector is desirable to thieves because merchandise is easy to fence, quickly consumed and difficult to trace.
And while the trifecta of popular theft ploys is still the unloading of goods from a trailer, hitching up to a dropped trailer, or stealing both truck and trailer, the use of technology by increasingly sophisticated criminals is changing the dynamic. The trending category known as “fictitious pickup,” now accounts for 10% of cargo theft, up from just 5% in 2011.
Fictitious pickup is also called “fraudulent” or “deceptive” pickup. CargoNet explains in its whitepaper, Cargo Theft By Suspicious Pickup, that in a fictitious pickup criminals trick shippers into willingly turning over loads to them. They may do this by winning a transportation bid at online load posting sites, a scenario where the cargo thief is actually hired to do the job under the guise of being a legitimate operator after having created a seemingly reputable online presence. Another tactic is for the thief to find out about a scheduled load with a reputable carrier, and then arrive early with bogus paperwork to pick it up.
There are a number of steps that supply chain stakeholders can take to help battle fictitious pickups. These include:
- Thoroughly vetting unfamiliar carriers before giving them a load, and never brokering a high value, high risk load
- Establishing a policy of appointments made at least 24 hours in advance, including pickup number, driver’s name and driver’s license number, and trucking company name
- Thoroughly verifying documentation upon arrival
- Installing an effective surveillance system, with high-definition cameras covering both outside and inside dock area, as well as driver reception
- Be aware that fictitious pickups occur most frequently on Thursday and Friday, when shippers and warehouses are at their busiest for outbound freight (as opposed to regular cargo theft, which is at its height on the weekend when unattended freight is most vulnerable).
Regardless of whether or not fictitious pickup has been involved, other technologies can help track merchandise after shipping has taken place, including GPS tracking, geofencing (automatic alerts if the cargo is diverted from its route), devices that send alerts when trailer doors are opened or cargo is unloaded, and vehicle-immobilization technology.
Another unique approach includes unique identification technologies. For food and beverage products, it is often difficult to prove ownership of the load after apprehension. The Tulare, California Sheriff’s office has purchased a liquid product (SmartWater CSI) that can be formulated uniquely for each farmer and applied to equipment or packaging such as super sacks. When viewed under a blacklight, it can be associated the shipper to aid in apprehension of thieves and the return of property.