CENTRAL POLICE SERVICES FOR TRANSPORT CRIME ARE ESSENTIAL TO TACKLE CROSS-BORDER CARGO THEFTS AND LINKS TO OTHER FORMS OF SERIOUS CRIME

Cross-border losses remain one of the biggest challenges for cargo crime and insurance investigations – a fact that is well-known, and regularly exploited, by offenders.

The annual statistical data provided by international loss adjustors, B.V.B.A Wim Dekeyser for cargo thefts in Belgium in 2019 more than highlights this situation. Based on its own data, it says Belgian carriers now suffer as many cases of cargo losses in other countries as they do within their own national borders.

In 2019, Wim Dekeyser’s analysis of major Belgian freight crime incidents shows:

·        23% were recorded in France

·        23% took place in Eastern Europe

·        19% were reported in the Netherlands

·        13% of crime occurred in the United Kingdom

In recent years, the company has provided one of the best sources of intelligence on the activities of fake carriers in Europe and crimes which have been perpetrated by bogus operators via online freight exchanges. Its highly respected, free of charge ‘warning system’ lists the identities of hundreds of company names which have been involved in cargo losses to help the loss prevention programmes of legitimate buyers of logistics services and authentic transport operators.

In the past year, cases involving fake carriers rose sharply to 25% of all incidents recorded by Wim Dekeyser – up from 9% in 2018 – although not all came as a result of companies buying transport capacity using online exchanges. This is by far the highest level in the last five years. In two of these major frauds, 13 and seven shipments were stolen. Recoveries of stolen loads in Romania, Poland and the Czech Republic, while very welcome news for the victims, also served to demonstrate the cross-border nature of these types of incidents. The biggest scam in Poland also showed clear links to organised crime in both Poland and Ukraine, the report adds.

Some fake carriers are also very repetitive in their activities; one was linked to over a dozen embezzled shipments.   

Overall, 15 losses involving fake carriers were recorded by Wim Dekeyser last year, the highest number since 2015. The combined loss for these crimes was also at its highest level since 2014 at €1,952,152, with only €85,000 of the stolen goods being recovered.

One of the noticeable shifts in the last 12 months concerned the nationalities of fake carrier operators. Interestingly, 42% of bogus operators were found to have originated in western Europe, including the Netherlands, where two ‘huge scams’ were traced in 2019, the report states. Poland was also cited as the ‘home’ of such offenders, well ahead of the likes of Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Romania.

Goods targeted throughout the year fell into nine categories:

·        Metal – 36%

·        Raw materials – 28%

·        Food – 8%

·        Household goods – 8%

·        Alcohol – 4%

·        Textiles/shoes – 4%

·        Groupage – 4%

·        Machinery – 4%

·        Car parts – 4%

While Wim Dekeyser’s incident analysis pays close attention to criminal use of online freight exchanges, it does reference new exchange sites or digital platforms which appear to be making security one of their main priorities. Hopefully, this will drive improvements in due diligence and security across the sector.

A ‘more worrying new player on the market,’ the report adds, is UBER FREIGHT, which is now active in Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. So far, Wim Dekeyser says, the company has not responded to its questions relating to legal capacity, screening and security issues, or social dumping. As with its ‘taxi branch’, no doubt most of the people offering UBER FREIGHT solutions are almost certainly legitimate and well-intentioned operators which will provide their services professionally and deliver as promised. However, as with all new schemes, criminals will be looking to exploit gaps in the system and to play on the trust of buyers. It is something Wim Dekeyser and traditional freight forwarders and transport companies across Europe will be monitoring closely in relation to both potential unfair competition and supply chain security.        

The supply chain resilience challenges for Belgian Manufacturers and Logistics Service Providers are common with those of companies in most other markets in Europe:

The report highlights:

 

-        Organised crime involvement in thefts of full loads, and in networks to dispose of stolen goods in an organised manner;

-        The issue of trucks using unsecured parking areas; especially alongside highways in spite of an increase of secure parking areas in some countries, such as France, Spain and the UK. “The problem is far from being solved as the cost of using these facilities is apparently in conflict with the weak economic position of the road hauliers,” Wim Dekeyser states, adding that it is confronted with thefts from unsecured parking areas in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK every day. This situation is exacerbated by ‘travelling gangs’ of cargo thieves, often linked to Eastern European organised crime, which are active all over Europe;

-        General problems concerning law enforcement; cargo crime given a low priority, lack of international cooperation between European law enforcement services, more protective laws in relation to privacy and, for instance, the use of ‘informants’; 

The company also repeated its concerns, stated over several years, regarding the use of the VPV, a simplified police report used by certain Belgian law enforcement agencies and public prosecutors’ offices. This is still being used, even for high value thefts, the company says.

 

Looking at the need for more secure truck parking areas in Europe, Wim Dekeyser recognised that TAPA has developed its Parking Security Requirements (PSR) industry standard, while the European Commission has its own Safe & Secure Truck Parking Areas (SSTPA). While the Commission says its standard will soon be incorporated into EU law, the standard still isn’t applied generally and, at this stage, for the whole of the EU only has five SSTPAs audited and approved under the EU system. This explains why “for obvious reasons, in day-to-day practice, other lists of secured parking areas are used from TAPA, from specific shippers or from our office,” the report continues.

The ‘conflict’ between the two initiatives, Wim Dekeyser adds, is “a quite confusing situation for the users of secured parking areas.” In the meantime, thefts on open, unsecured parking areas still account for more than 50% of incidents.

Secured sites which are in operation, however, are not immune from criminal attacks. The report notes incidents at secured locations in Wanlin in Belgium, Vemars Ouest in France and Venlo in the Netherlands. This raises questions over the need to implement and/or control the security measures put in place to ensure a consistent performance level. “One major problem is that security is essentially based on avoiding ‘unauthorised access’ by trucks, but criminals get access with ‘authorised’ vehicles simply by paying to use the parking facilities, for instance with false license plates.”      

2019 also saw an increase in crimes involving what Wim Dekeyser describe as ‘fake buyers.’ The company explains: “The technique used is quite simple: an important producer is approached by a promising new client pretending to represent a well-established concern. The sales department is enthusiastic (and blinded) and ships several shipments of goods without advanced payment guarantee. At the end of the day, it transpires that the crooks abused the name of the established company using fake telephone numbers and mail accounts to obtain delivery of the cargo without paying for it.

 

“There is also a particular risk for transport or logistics companies who are approached by criminals to arrange for road transports and/or storage facilities (sometimes only for a few days); services will never be paid for by the crooks.”

 

Part of the solution to stopping these and other aspects of cargo thefts is greater collaboration and intelligence sharing. While acknowledging several highly successful police operations in 2019 to disrupt cargo crime operations, Wim Dekeyser adds: “Last year we pleaded for the creation of a Central Police Service dealing with transport crime. The countries where such offices exist are, unfortunately, the exception. The advantage is evident; having a total view over the country and to make links with other fields of serious crimes like narcotics, money laundering and even terrorism. Such central offices in countries can ensure the necessary links with Europol and INTERPOL to fight against transport crime. This could simplify international contacts and procedures which nowadays are often very bureaucratic and time-consuming.”