The wild west appears to be on the eastern side of the Atlantic when it comes to cargo crime. Recent reports show a disturbing rise in violent crime in Europe perpetrated by organized gangs.
A report on the main hotspots of cargo crime in Europe released by Freightwatch International indicates frequent use of violence in some regions – notably Russia, Italy and France, where hijackings have gone up. In France, the capital stands out, with violence three times more likely to come into play in Paris than in the rest of the country.
According to French police estimates, the country suffered some 2,300 freight crimes last year, which constitutes a 40% rise over 2013. In Italy, it is chiefly the south where cargo crime is likely to turn violent.
On Freightwatch’s list of the top hotspots for cargo crime in the region Paris claims first place, followed by three regions in Italy, highways and the two major cities in Russia, British motorways, Southeastern Holland, Belgian highways, the ‘southern triangle’ of Sweden, three regions in Spain, and Poland and neighbouring Ukraine.
Freightwatch predicts that overall levels of crime will go up this year.
The Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA), an industry group against cargo crime, has recorded the fastest rise in freight crime in Germany and Britain within Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Overall the organization has noted three major instances of crime a day in the region, with losses averaging €205,624 (US$229,000) in 2014. As many as 157 incidents involved losses in excess of €100,000 (US$111,000).
Thorsten Neumann, chairman of TAPA EMEA, stressed that the majority of cargo crime still goes unreported, so actual numbers are bound to be significantly higher. He added that the true cost of loss, taking into account all the factors that can result from a cargo crime, can be five times the cost of the stolen product.
“We know that organized gangs of cargo criminals are operating across our region, particularly within Europe, and we can clearly see that they are becoming more daring and sophisticated in the way they target goods moving in the supply chain,” he warned.
While actual crime numbers were down last year and violence is rare, the increasing sophistication of criminals who target cargo is also a concern in the US. Numbers reported by Freightwatch for 2014 show that the number of cargo theft instances declined by 12%, but the average value of the goods stolen surged 36% to US$233,000.
Criminals in the US are increasingly targeting shipments of electronics, where the number of cases involving cargo worth more than US$1 million dollars tripled in 2014. As in Europe, the overwhelming majority of instances involved theft of vehicles rather than from facilities.
In three cases last year, crooks used signal interference devices to jam signals of tracking technology deployed to combat crime, Freightwatch found. Meanwhile, social media and logistics provider staff’s mobile phones have become sources of information about security processes and cargo moves for criminal elements.
Crooks turn increasingly to computing power to pursue their sinister goals. Insurance firm TT Club has registered a marked increase in moves that target operators in the supply chain electronically to commit fraud or obtain information about valuable cargo.
“Everything that is connected to the internet can be hacked,” noted Bob Liscouski, president and CEO of Convergent Risk Group, in a recent webinar organized by the US Airforwarders Association.
He added that cybercrime has become ubiquitous. “There are only two types of companies – those who have been hacked and those who don’t know they have been hacked,” he said.
One strategy on the rise sees crooks hack into e-mail communication between two parties and block the e-mails of the recipient of the funds just before a payment is due to be made. Pretending to be the receiving party, they ask the other side to pay the money into a different bank account. Once they have received the payment, they close the account.
In other cases, criminals pose as truckers on electronic bidding platforms and freight exchanges. They bid for a consignment at a lowball rate, collect the cargo and are never seen again.
“If a deal on a freight exchange seems too good to be true, it probably is,” warned Mike Yarwood, insurance claims expert at TT Club. Forwarders should know their customers and vendors and perform due diligence on them, he urged.
By Ian Putzger
Air Freight Correspondent | Toronto