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How digitally savvy theft has invaded trucking

Last spring, Detective Mark Haywood of Peel police stumbled upon a startling scene. On a property just west of Toronto, he uncovered a semi-trailer filled to the brim with brand new Ski-Doos, each valued at a hefty $24,000. It was a significant win for his cargo theft team, part of a larger operation dubbed Project Big Rig, which led to the apprehension of 15 suspects and the recovery of 28 trailers packed with goods totaling a staggering $7 million. This haul included everything from poultry to televisions to cases of Sleeman beer.

Haywood, reflecting on the operation, remarked on the concerning trend of increasing cargo theft. Indeed, data from analytics firm Verisk’s CargoNet reveals a sharp 59 percent rise in such incidents across Canada and the United States last year alone. This surge follows a pattern of consecutive annual increases, with thefts rising by 15 percent in 2022 and by 20 percent in 2021.

While traditional methods of theft such as cutting fences at freight yards or stealing semis from truck stops remain prevalent, criminals are increasingly turning to more sophisticated, digitally driven tactics. Online load boards, phishing scams, and hacking methods provide them with valuable information about shipments and locations, enabling them to execute more targeted and efficient thefts.

Innovations like Apple AirTags have also found nefarious applications in the world of cargo theft, allowing criminals to track shipments or glean insider information. Furthermore, tactics like identity theft, where criminals impersonate legitimate carriers, have become more prevalent. By posing as reputable trucking companies, thieves gain access to valuable cargo, often at bargain rates.

The consequences of such theft are severe. Beyond the financial losses incurred by businesses, stolen goods can pose health risks to consumers if they are perishable items like food or compromised by improper storage conditions. Electronics, another popular target, are often broken down and sold in smaller lots to avoid detection.

To cover their tracks, criminal networks engage in "double brokering," hiring legitimate trucking companies to transport stolen goods to their final destination. This tactic helps them avoid direct involvement in the transportation process and lowers their risk of detection.

Ontario, particularly the Toronto area, stands out as a hotspot for cargo theft, accounting for a significant portion of incidents reported across Canada. Despite law enforcement efforts, the problem persists, with reported incidents in 2023 still significantly higher than pre-2021 levels.

The true extent of cargo theft is likely underestimated, as many incidents go unreported due to concerns about reputational damage and potential insurance rate hikes. As criminals continue to adapt and leverage technology to their advantage, combating cargo theft will require a multi-faceted approach involving law enforcement, industry collaboration, and enhanced security measures.

In the face of these challenges, businesses must remain vigilant and adopt robust security protocols to safeguard their shipments and protect against the growing threat of digitally savvy theft.



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