Security threats to the fleet

by Carolyn Gruske

This web-exclusive article is a companion piece to MM&D‘s July-August feature on distribution centre security.

While it may seem simplistic, it’s fair to say without the fleets of trucks arriving and departing daily, DCs couldn’t operate. So in some ways, it’s almost impossible to talk about warehouse security without speaking about truck and trailer security as well.

According to the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s most recent figures, cargo crime is estimated to be a $5 billion problem in Canada, and it’s a crime that can take many different forms. And some of those forms are directly linked to the warehouse.

Garry Robertson, national director, investigations, for the Toronto, Ontario-based Insurance Bureau of Canada says criminals engaging in truck company identity theft can be so well organized that they can really put a DC’s security procedures to the test. In these types of crimes, fraudsters drive up to the DCs, present themselves as representatives of a legitimate trucking company that has actual business at the warehouse, and drives off with a load of stolen merchandise.

“We’ve had examples where the trucking company’s logos were actually on the doors of the truck. They had magnetic signs done up to pretend they were the real trucking company. So when they roll in and pick up the load knowing it’s there, everybody thinks it’s that trucking company picking up the load. They’ve got the fake manifests, and fake invoices and everything, and off they go with the load.”

Roberston says DC security officers have to be extremely vigilant and ensure they get not only the names of the trucking companies coming in and out, but also verified details about the drivers’ identities. Of course he admits that sometimes even that isn’t enough. He has seen situations where drivers have had their wallets stolen and their personal information used as part of a cargo theft operation.

Sal Marino, vice-president of business development for CargoNet, a Jersey City, New Jersey organization that maintains a database of cargo and truck thefts in Canada and the US, says in addition to impersonating existing carriers, some thieves will go to the trouble of creating fake trucking companies, bidding on contracts and disappearing with the goods.

“They will steal some old motor carrier numbers that have been expired or really not in service for a while. In some cases they’ll build a fake website. The will have fake insurance certificates or they’ll get a real insurance certificate. They’ll bill any insurance knowing they’re never going to have to pay because they’re providing false information. And they’ll get a throwaway phone, so they’ll call you from the same area code as where you believe the trucking company resides. And they’ll mask their IP addresses by going into coffee shops [and using their Wi-Fi connections].”

On the other hand, some other DC-related truck and cargo thefts are much more straightforward. Crooks sneak onto the yard, break into a trailer, unload it and put the merchandise into their own tractor trailer and drive off; or they just steal the trailer and the load, move the goods to their own warehouse, and then dump the truck and trailer. That last scenario can also be played out a number of locations, according Robert Goodall, director of law enforcement services for CargoNet. Based in Toronto, Ontario, Goodall says he has seen the number of location where trailers are stolen from expand over the last two decades.

“We’re seeing thefts from distribution centres, parking lots and secured yards because the amount of cargo left in those locations is increasing. In the 90s, our focus was truck stops. Trucks were being surveilled from the terminal or the warehouse, and when they would stop at the truck stop, the driver and the tractor trailer were hijacked.”

Goodall says most of these kinds are thefts are reported on Mondays (although they occurred sometime between Friday and Sunday), and the primary reason behind that are retail and business needs.

“We’re seeing a trend where marketing people and sellers are calling clients and committing that if they place their order by Friday, they’ll make sure the truck is loaded and ready to go by Monday morning. So what’s happening is you’ve got loaded trailer sitting in the yard where there is no security, or perhaps reduced security because it’s the weekend.”

As with breaches in warehouse security, those involved in the trucking industry say there is often hesitation and reluctance to report thefts. Jean Marc Picard, executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA) in Dieppe, New Brunswick, says he encourages anybody who has been the victim of a theft to report it to the authorities “because the more they report it, the more they’ll get a better response from the authorities.”

Because of the nature of cargo thefts (like inventory thefts from a DC) these types of thefts are often just seen as victimless crimes that can be taken care of through insurance—and because of how stretched the resources of most police forces are (detective sergeant Lou Malbeuf of the York Regional Police’s auto/cargo theft unit says in Ontario, only the York and the Peel Region police forces have full time units devoted to cargo theft) it has sometimes been hard to get law enforcement officers to devote as much attention to cargo thefts as they likely deserve, especially to the thefts that seemed to be the work of organized crime.

“I think the police do what they can, but I think that previously they didn’t recognize it as organized crime. It was treated as if you’ve had a bicycle stolen. But now, they have brought it up to the next level, although I don’t think they had a choice,” he says.

“Since the last round of thefts we had, the APTA highlighted the fact that the response from the authorities was poor. They got a lot of attention and it made sure they would address the situation and put some manpower behind it, although there is still a lot of work to do.”