With Last Mile cargo thefts a growing concern for Manufacturers and Logistics Service Providers, Vigilant takes a closer look at the challenges for businesses operating in Barcelona, one of Europe’s hotspots for these types of criminal attacks, and summarises the key outputs from Risk Intelligence’s latest webinar on this topic, which included input from TAPA EMEA’s Executive Director, Laurence Brown, to help avoid Last Mile cargo thefts in one of Europe’s least secure cities.

Barcelona is a cargo theft hotspot and one of the worst affected regions in Spain. With 70 Last Mile delivery thefts in the last year and numerous incidents at motorway services and industrial areas on the outskirts of the city, the problem is likely to continue. So why Barcelona?

When looking at Last Mile delivery theft, Barcelona can be considered a ‘target rich environment’. Heavy traffic and narrow streets provide criminals with numerous opportunities to identify, follow or ambush vehicles making Last Mile deliveries. Motorway service areas on arterial routes around the city also provide plenty of targets for roving cargo theft gangs.

The main M.O. of cargo thieves outside Barcelona city is tarpaulin-cutting of soft-sided trailers, with most incidents occurring when trucks are parked in unsecured parking areas. The theft of entire trucks and their cargo has also occurred in some incidents. 

In Barcelona itself, the main threat is Last Mile delivery thefts, where goods are taken from vans whilst drivers are making deliveries. Much of this is relatively low-level organised crime. Although the groups themselves can be relatively large, they are not believed to be linked to major crime syndicates or criminal networks.

The three threat actor parameters

At Risk Intelligence, we evaluate and analyse the threat actor, in this case the cargo thieves, based on three parameters; intent, capability, and opportunity. Intent is the goal the adversary wants to achieve. Capability is the ability of the adversary to successfully breach security measures and fulfil their intent, and Opportunity relates to the conditions in the wider environment and the nature of the target vulnerabilities, (physical and operational) that can be exploited by the adversary.

Threat actor intent

As with all cargo thefts, local criminals target Last Mile shipments because they see it as a relatively easy way to make money. They prefer to steal high value or in-demand products over low cost items or those that are difficult to sell. Perpetrators will try to avoid a confrontation with the driver. Sentences for theft are usually minor, but this quickly changes in the case of robberies involving the threat or use of violence as police forces are more likely to prioritise crimes that endanger people.

Threat actor capability

To breach a truck/trailer or other delivery vehicle requires simple breaching tools - crowbars, bolt cutters, utility knifes etc, which can be bought in any hardware store. Obtaining vehicles (stolen or otherwise), to escape the scene and transport cargo is also easy for most criminals. It does not require a high degree of tradecraft to breach a vehicle. Some skill and efficiency is needed to steal cargo undetected but, again, this requires little technical expertise.

Barcelona - criminal opportunities

Unrestricted access to unsecured parking areas with little surveillance or security is central to the adversary’s opportunity. Drivers park at unsecured locations due to restrictions on driving hours, mandatory rest requirements, financial constraints, or simply due to a lack of secure parking options. As a result, most thefts happen at night when drivers are sleeping, similar to conditions elsewhere in Europe.

The inherent vulnerability of Last Mile deliveries is exploited by the criminals. Drivers must open the secure cargo compartment and leave the vehicle multiple times on public streets to make their deliveries. With drivers under intense pressure to fulfil multi-drop ‘next day’ deliveries, complacency can creep in. Drivers may forget or not bother to lock the vehicle at each drop, for example.

A hotspot for Last Mile delivery incidents

Last year, there were 56 incidents between August to December with a significant increase in the run up to Christmas. Most thefts took place in central and south/western Barcelona city and along the AP-7 motorway.

There have been 49 incidents to date in 2020 with a sharp drop off in incidents following the New Year. This, however, is most likely to be a simple reflection of COVID-19 movement restrictions. As these restrictions are relaxed and ultimately lifted, we expect cargo crime to return to the high levels we saw before the Covid-19 crisis. Most thefts took place on weekdays with a clear drop at weekends.

42 incidents took place during the actual delivery, most likely during the vulnerable time when the driver opens the vehicle to fetch goods or when the driver leaves the (hopefully locked) vehicle to deliver a parcel.

Most Last Mile delivery incidents took place in city streets with regular vehicle and pedestrian traffic. The criminals know they must act quickly, grab what they can and quickly escape to avoid detection. As a result, loss values in the vast majority of Last Mile delivery incidents were relatively low. Over 80% of the financial losses were less than €1,500.

The importance of route planning

Although incidents seem opportunist in nature, criminals are actively targeting Last Mile delivery vehicles. They either wait to ambush vehicles as they arrive at a delivery point or follow delivery vehicles by car or scooter until they stop to make a delivery. ‘Tailing’ a delivery vehicle is fairly easy in Barcelona’s congested and often narrow city streets.


There have also been a handful of incidents at the Castellbisbal and Collsabadell motorway service areas on the AP-7 motorway over the last year. Each site has both secure and unsecured parking areas. Not surprisingly, the incidents took place in the unsecured parking areas, reinforcing the importance of using secure parking when available.

For longer distance transports, staging the journey to avoid overnight stops at service areas on the outskirts of Barcelona, particularly on the on the AP-7, A-2 and N-11 motorways, is important. Use of hard-sided trailers where feasible also reduces the risk of being a ‘soft target’ and secure parking should be used when available, particularly sites accredited by a 3rd party such as TAPA.

To reduce the risks to Last Mile deliveries, use of vehicles without company markings or livery can offer some protection. Slam locks should be fitted as a standard and procedures enforced to ensure they are used, such as driver training that includes a quick safety/security check before unloading. Drivers should also be reminded of the need to follow sensible security procedures, including checking mirrors before exiting their vehicle, looking for suspicious people at drop-off points, and being alert to anything deemed to be out of the ordinary. The general rule is always: if it does not feel right, drive on and come back later, and, always lock the vehicle, no matter how close the delivery or how short the stop.

A threat for the long-term

There have been some successes against the criminals over the last year, with three notable law enforcement operations that took down four separate cargo theft groups. These groups specialised in targeting trucks at local service areas.

However welcome these successes are, they will have little impact on low-level criminals conducting Last Mile delivery thefts within the city. In Barcelona, every street is a potential delivery stop and, as a result, a potential crime scene. The threat actors are too numerous and incident locations too dispersed to effectively monitor and interdict. As a result, logistics service providers should primarily rely on their own security procedures and dynamic assessment tools to avoid theft.




Stephen Bacot, LandRisk Manager, and Kristian Bischoff, Analyst, at Risk Intelligence, which specialises in threat analysis of piracy, organised crime, terrorism, insurgency and military conflicts on land, in ports and at sea, and launched the land-based incident awareness and assessment module of the Risk Intelligence System, LandRisk, in 2019, providing supply chain and logistics operators with up-to-date security intelligence, threat assessments, route planning and fleet tracking on the go. TAPA and Risk Intelligence are in partnership to incorporate the TAPA Incident Information Service (IIS) data into the Risk Intelligence System for the benefit of the Association's members and to assist in analysing the data.


FAQs in the LSG: 

  • How can I ensure a lock systems supplier’s products are suitable for my needs?
  • Do global conformance tests for road transport vehicles’ locking systems exist?
  • Apart from test certifications and endorsements, are there other features that can help in the selection of a good locking system?
  • What does it mean when I see a locking product advertised as CTPAT or TAPA compliant?
  • How can I ensure High Security Seal products meet my needs?



Pieter Sutorius sold his company Trans-Safety LOCKS to WABCO in early 2016. Born in 1943 and raised in Holland, Pieter’s early career included roles in both the U.S. and Japan representing his German steel mill employer. In 1980, he joined an American sea container leasing company to run its northern Europe activities and, five years later, started his own business leasing, selling and repairing sea containers and became heavily involved in road and sea transport in Europe. Recognizing the intensity and high value of cargo losses, he subsequently started to produce anti-theft devices for trucks, trailers and containers. Unknowingly, Pieter’s decision ‘to do something against cargo theft’ coincided with the birth of TAPA and he joined the Association some six years later. He remains a proud Honorable member of TAPA EMEA.             


Greg Haber is President of Babaco Alarm Systems Inc. and has been a member of TAPA for five years. Using his electrical engineering background, Greg started his career in consumer vehicle security, which led him to the consumer GPS business at Satellite Tracking Technologies (STT). In the mid-1990s, STT developed a GPS device for the Ford Motor Company which transmitted simultaneous voice and data over the analog phone channel. Moving later into the consumer electronics market, Greg’s roles included designing, manufacturing, procurement, and technology transfer at various factories in China, producing notable products including air antennas for next generation HDTVs as well as radio, GPS antennas, and audio/video distribution devices. Many of Greg’s products were developed exclusively for Radio Shack. Since joining Babaco in 1999, Greg has continued to keep his finger on the pulse of ongoing changes in theft techniques, developing innovative technological creations to deter cargo theft.