A new report based on statistical data compiled by international loss adjustors, B.V.B.A. Wim Dekeyser, provides a revealing insight into cargo crime in Belgium and a welcome trend showing a reduction in incidents involving fake carriers.

The report shares intelligence gained from some 100 crimes with direct losses of €20,000 or more in 2017 although, overall, Wim Dekeyser deals with between 300-350 freight theft incidents a year impacting Belgian carriers, both in Belgium and other countries. Although the total number of incidents remained on a par with 2016, the number of cases involving goods going missing after being tendered on freight exchange sites indicates that companies are starting to pay much greater attention to who they are doing business with.

This has been a key area of focus for Wim Dekeyser in recent years and saw the company create a warning system for carriers to help them identify illegitimate operators targeting high value, theft attractive goods. It also provides a list of over 400 fake carrier identities to look out for, which, again, reflects the scale of the problem.

In 2017, however, fake carrier frauds directly related to Belgium saw only nine crimes recorded with a total loss value of €484,000. Prior to the launch of the warning system, figures for 2014 stood at 28 cases with a combined value of €2,105,173. However, the risk of being victimised remains, particularly as some carriers continue to subcontract loads often against their customers’ specific orders. Vigilant has previously reported cases in Europe where single loads have been passed on to several carriers via freight exchanges, a fact that only came to light in subsequent investigations after the cargoes went missing.

In the vast majority of cases, bookings via freight exchange sites are carried out as planned by thoroughly professional and reputable companies but with hundreds of thousands of journeys being offered and outsourced every month online, buyers need to take every precaution to safeguard their goods.

Wim Dekeyser states: “We certainly hope the prevention initiative we implemented has contributed to the downward trend in recorded cargo crimes for Belgian carriers using freight exchanges but the fact remains that companies need to stay constantly aware of the risks.”

The issue of liability is most likely going to drive more resilient vetting processes of carriers trading on online exchanges in order to avoid costly cases of gross negligence if they are found not to have carried out sufficient checks before allowing companies to bid for transport loads. Wim accepts that freight exchange sites are not always to blame when outsourced loads are stolen but says it is incumbent on the sites’ owners to ensure they are as secure as possible for companies acting in good faith and awarding delivery responsibilities to third parties.      

‘Companies’ using fake IDs to bid for transport loads will often strike on multiple occasions over the space of a few days using the same identity before disappearing, he says, citing one such criminal activity that resulted in seven shipments being embezzled in one week.

2017 also saw several cases of ‘fake buyers fraud’ in which a producer of goods is approached by a promising new client pretending to represent a well-established concern. The enthusiastic sales department ships several samples of goods without a payment guarantee but, at the end of the day, it turns out that offenders have abused the name of an established, innocent company and then used fake telephone numbers and email accounts to take delivery of the cargo without paying for it. Wim Dekeyser recommends: “Prevention can be very simple. Always check the coordinates of your contracting party because this alone can avoid a lot of problems.” He highlights a case in which a Belgian company’s identity was abused to order several shipments of televisions, which were delivered to some rented warehouses. A check would have shown that although the company reportedly ordering the TVs was, indeed, a major business, it was in the carpet industry and so was unlikely to be placing big orders for televisions.     

Belgian carriers suffer twice as many cargo thefts outside of Belgium as they do in their home country and the growth of foreign criminal gangs – particularly from Eastern Europe – is only making investigation and recovery processes more complex. Wim Dekeyser also has evidence of cargo criminals from Egypt and Syria now operating in Belgium and its neighbouring countries. “Years ago, we faced essentially local ‘gangs’ whereby it was easier to locate them and recover goods via informants etc. Nowadays, we are dealing with itinerate gangs from Albania, Romania etc. who are able to move the stolen goods so quickly back to their home countries, significantly complicating investigations.”   

The cross-border nature of cargo crime, particularly in Europe, also complicates the work of law enforcement agencies. “Most progress is made by private investigators,” Wim says, who are regularly called upon to investigate cargo losses involving Belgian carriers in France, Germany and the United Kingdom, in particular. The challenge is exacerbated by some police authorities continuing to view cargo crime as a low priority while others are hampered by the lack of international cooperation between law enforcement services as well as privacy laws.

He is not alone in thinking that at least half of all cargo crimes could be prevented if there was a bigger network of secure parking sites for trucks in Europe. Some 60% of the losses recorded by Wim Dekeyser in 2017 involved vehicles that had stopped in open and unsecured parking areas. The time for talking, he says, is over. He wants to see action – but says more secure parking places is only part of what needs to change.

“The issues relating to the lack of secure parking in Europe are very well known so we don’t need to keep studying it. In our humble opinion, the problem has been described numerous times, so it is now a time for action. Cargo crime, most often resulting from a lack of secure parking places, has to be a political matter because it is often directly related to more serious types of crime, such as narcotics trafficking, money laundering, violent crime and even terrorism.”

The big questions, of course, remain; who is going to pay for these new secure parking sites and who is going to use them? One significant step forward would be for the cost of secure parking to be a separate charge on top of the agreed transportation cost because as long as it has to be subsidised within the single transportation fee, it will remain hard for many transport companies to justify.

“Yes, the price of say €20 a night is peanuts for secure parking for a valuable shipment but road hauliers see it differently. If, for instance, they have 50 trucks, it can equate to a total cost of €1,000 a day and they simply do not have the financial margin to meet these costs. So, yes, the solution is that shippers/cargo interests take a share in the costs. Prevention has to be a joint venture for all of the parties involved,” he believes.

The problem of secure parking, however, will take years to resolve, in Wim’s opinion. “At a recent seminar it was said that it would take 30 years before sufficient secure parking areas would be created in Germany. By then, there may only be driverless trucks operating.” 

Security standards can also make a positive difference, he says, citing TAPA’s Facility Security Requirements (FSR) and Trucking Security Requirements (TSR), and he welcomes standardisation such as the Association’s new Parking Security Requirements (PSR). Now, Wim says, it’s time to start work out in the field without the need to reopen or start new discussions on industry standards.

He also warned companies to beware of ‘fake secure parking areas’ after seeing several incidents in 2017 at paid for parking facilities which presented themselves as ‘secured parking areas’ but, in reality, the security measures put in place were either insufficient or totally non-existent.

A key recommendation in the report – or a plea, as it is described – is for the creation or reactivation of a central police service in each country dealing with transport crime and acting as a liaison point with the likes of Europol and INTERPOL.

“This could simplify international contacts and procedures, which nowadays are very bureaucratic and time-consuming. A good example is a shipment from Hungary to France that was embezzled by a fraudulent subcontractor of a Polish haulier and seized in Slovakia. Although it was a straightforward case, it took more than six months to comply with all of the bureaucratic formalities to release the goods … an enormous and unnecessary waste of energy, time and money not only for the private parties involved but also the police services in four countries,” he concluded.