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The UK’s cargo crime crisis

Cargo crime is rising on UK roads, with the international transportation theft of “Goods in Transit” swiftly becoming one of the more common crimes against haulage operators and suppliers.

Evidence suggests that logistics companies are falling behind the curve when it comes to dealing with the ever more elaborate scams being orchestrated by organised crime groups.  Businesses and their management need to urgently level-up their crime prevention policies to protect against the theft of goods, and even the vehicles themselves. It’s particularly concerning to note this rise is occurring despite the utilisation of ever more intelligent tracking technology.

Transportation theft itself is perhaps not how it’s pictured in the movies. Tracking technology has made vehicle and trailer theft much more of a risk for criminal gangs.  Rather than these bad actors directly hijacking vehicles on the move, the theft is often more discrete and calculated and therefore harder to catch. For example, thieves often focus on the retention of payment of merchandise and last-minute diversion of delivery locations as just some of their complex theft methods to swindle goods cost-free.

Keeping abreast of this kind of theft presents a huge challenge for businesses and hauliers alike.

Typically, where money is retained or goods diverted, no crime has technically been committed in the eyes of the law and as such, the UK police cannot (due to a lack of resources and reasonable grounds) act on a potential crime.

More generally, due to the complexity of these crimes, anecdotal comments suggest that law enforcement will often point to or suggest possible flaws in the victim’s credit control or logistics procedures as a reason not to elevate a theft report to more intensive enquiry. Whilst UK law enforcement will never admit to having financial thresholds that must be met before more proactive investigations are commenced, it seems we are now even entering the realms where a £1m loss is not making the ‘cut’.

It’s also all about the timing. Once the trial goes cold it simply becomes increasingly difficult track down and retrieve the goods. The fact remains that if the police wish to obtain authorisation to commence a surveillance operation, then a huge process of ‘senior level sign off’ red tape kicks in.

This is where bringing in support from we in the private sector can help fill the deficit. Here’s just one example.

We were instructed by a large European manufacturer and distribution company who had been a victim of international transportation theft. The company received a convincing order of £350,000 of goods appearing to derive from a UK blue chip company, and, subject to protocol, arranged for the delivery of two separate consignments of goods to be sent to the UK without the need for pre-payment or additional security checks. 

On arrival of the company’s first vehicle of goods on UK soil, the delivery address was suddenly changed by the ‘customer’, and no questions asked. The delivery was then made to the new address. Upon the company’s realisation that payment was never received, and a lack of police interest, we were brought in to get to the bottom of the crime.  In the interim a second order was quickly received from the same ‘customer’.

Our main objective was to secure the original goods and identify the perpetrator. Acting immediately, we mobilised a surveillance team, along with fitting a GPS tracking device in the client’s HGV.  For additional support, an undercover operative was also installed to accompany the driver.

We then set to the task of locating the fictitious UK company, uncovering links with an alleged known fraudster.

Our emphatic video surveillance findings gave the UK police sufficient grounds to act on the theft, enabling us to set up a joint sting operation. Subsequently, the individuals involved were arrested and the goods recovered alongside a significant amount of goods from the previous consignment.

Despite the complexity of the fraud, the ability of our agency to respond immediately led to the capture of the perpetrator and allowed the company to regain possession of the stolen goods.

As a concerning footnote it’s also vital to note that Artificial Intelligence ‘deep fake’ voice technology is already beginning to be adopted by organized criminals to orchestrate complex but convincing delivery and payment scams. Whilst you may recognise the voice on the other end of the phone instructing a change of delivery address or bank details, it could in fact be the scammer himself on the line.

Be careful out there!

If you think your firm might be at risk, get in contact with us at [email protected] for a no-obligation chat on the next available steps.

Roger Bescoby is Director of Client Relations at Conflict International and a Director and UK Ambassador of The World Association of Detectives.

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Call our Head Office on +44 (0)20 7917 2939 or email our team.