Intelligence is key to reducing freight crime risk, argues Fuel Theft Solutions Managing Director

Amid a disturbing rise in fuel and cargo theft, we speak to Chris Day, Managing Director of Fuel Theft Solutions Ltd, to get the inside track on the simple and complex methods thieves are deploying, and learn about the importance of utilising data on freight crimes.

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The issue of fuel and cargo theft is one that the logistics industry has had to perennially grapple with. Recent years have nonetheless seen the problem come to the fore, especially after the increase in the price of fuel sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Given that the cost of stolen fuel or goods is mounting for hauliers, it has never been more important to take preventative action to avoid being targeted.

Someone who is well aware of these developments is Chris Day, Managing Director of Fuel Theft Solutions Ltd, a company that offers fuel prevention products and also runs an app that monitors reports of thefts at different parking locations.

The company recently conducted a survey of just under 300 lorry drivers operating in the UK, and found that over half of respondents had reported having their curtains slashed. Just under 1 in 5 truckers said they’d been a victim of cargo theft, with twice as many suffering from fuel theft.

Among those respondents who had been a victim of freight crime, almost 6 in 10 drivers said thefts had happened at motorway service stations, with a similar amount suffering the same fate at independent parking locations like industrial estates and laybys.

Moreover, 6% said they had been the victim of a physical assault while at work.

To discuss these figures, get the inside track on the numerous methods that criminals are deploying to steal fuel and cargo, and find out how to reduce freight crime risk, we spoke to Chris Day himself.

Read on to learn:

  • Where drivers are more commonly reporting fuel and freight theft
  • How thieves are taking advantage of a drop in physical security
  • The numerous methods criminals are utilising to steal fuel and cargo
  • What hauliers can do to reduce the risk of falling victim to freight crime

Concerning driver survey results

First off, we asked Day whether there were any findings in the Fuel Theft Solutions survey that were particularly surprising or alarming.

In answer to that, Day told trans.iNFO of his concerns about drivers getting a lack of decent sleep:

“I think one of the concerns that stood out for me was the lack of sleep. You’ve got around 90% having less than 7 hours of sleep and over 45% getting under 5 hours of sleep a night. Given driver’s hours and so forth, a person could have driven for 10 hours a day. They’ve got to eat and shower, and if that driver is only getting 5 hours sleep and then potentially is doing an equally-long day the following day, that worries me.”

Day added:

“We’re seeing increases in alcohol consumption among lorry drivers. They’re using alcohol more often to get to sleep, which again, is a worry because they’re driving 44 tonnes. On top of that, we’re seeing an increase in drug use amongst drivers. We’ve seen some bad accidents as a result of drug use too.”

According to Day, one reason drivers also struggle to sleep is concern over their loads being targeted by thieves during the night, which brings us on to the top of freight crime itself.

Why are some service stations being regularly targeted by fuel and cargo thieves?

Commenting on the results of the aforementioned survey, Day told trans.iNFO that on some junctions on the M25, despite drivers paying £50, they still don’t feel safe and secure. “That’s how the industry is at the moment and things need to change,” said Day.

In Day’s opinion, a move away from physical security has left some parking locations vulnerable.

“What’s happened is that services have adopted ANPR technology, which helps boost revenues but for the most part has done little to combat crime. The technology essentially helps collect parking fees but does not protect drivers. In the past, when a lorry pulled up at a services, before the driver had even turned the ignition off, there’d be someone asking if the driver was parking for the night. That was done in order to collect the money, but that person would also know exactly what vehicles were entering and leaving the facility. So there was a marshalling,” Day told trans.iNFO.

Day added:

“You need to spend £20-£25,000 on CCTV or stick some boots on the ground. The actual locations with the least-recorded crimes have actual physical security on site. The drivers are crying out for it; motorway services should have physical security.”

The Managing Director of Fuel Theft Solutions Ltd did nonetheless point out that there are now ways to use ANPR to better secure lorry parking areas.

According to Day, ANPR is being used to prevent drive-offs at fuel stations, and could also be utilised at truck stops.

“The idea would be that If a vehicle’s got a police marker on it, the vehicle would be flagged immediately when entering the facility. This is already being done at petrol forecourts to prevent drive-offs. Facial recognition technology can also be implemented here. If a vehicle’s been flagged or marked, the person then comes into the shop and says, is there a problem? Straight away, they’ve captured the driver’s face on facial recognition. That’s a step in the right direction,” said Day.

Given the amount of thefts that have been reported at paid parking locations in recent years, Day has observed that many drivers have now decided it may be a safer option to park in an industrial estate. As a result, such locations have been added to his company’s SafePark App:

“You might be better off on an industrial estate somewhere [compared to a paid parking area with a track record of freight crime] because you’re just going to get picked off basically. So we’re incorporating industrial estates as well because some people refuse to pay for parking on the principle I’m not paying to be robbed, which I understand.”

Another reason why drivers can end up in freight crime hotspots is because of the long loading/unloading delays seen at some RDCs in the UK.

Referring to such a site in the Stoke-on-Trent area, Day said:

“Drivers that arrive early won’t be permitted on site. However, there’s nowhere suitable nearby to park. So drivers will go and hide out the way and come back at the allocated time. Also, at some sites, there can be 4-hour delays on tipping. So despite the fact a driver may have just two pallets, the wait could be 4 hours. Then you’ve also got vehicles that are late because they’ve been held up by motorway accidents or otherwise, and the load’s rejected because of the missed booking time. The driver’s got to find somewhere to park safely and securely in a location that’s new to them. There are often rich pickings for criminals at Christmas because the stores and the RDCs have lorries queuing up outside.”

As for what could be done to address this problem, Day told trans.iNFO:

“RDCs and truck stop providers need to engage. RDCs need to provide information on the nearest facilities and truck stops, they should be proactive. Trucks should be guaranteed a space if they’re waiting to be loaded or unloaded. So much more is possible, but there’s not enough cooperation in the industry.”

The cost of fuel theft

In Day’s opinion, one factor that’s driven up fuel theft has been the move from red to white diesel, which has made it easier for criminals to steal fuel from refrigerated trailers.

This, in turn, is causing a real headache for cold chain hauliers in particular.

“When the drivers wake up, the first thing they may notice is that the fridge isn’t running. It could have been the best night’s sleep they’d had in 6 months! The problem is there could be anything up to a £50,000 cargo rejection. Then they’ve got to replace the goods. So a simple 240-litre theft could end up being a £50,000 insurance claim. That’s what they’re faced with. We’ve seen an increase in that now since the change to white diesel. Thieves don’t have to stand at the side of a vehicle. Instead, they just crawl under the vehicle. They’re out of sight and there’s a noisy fridge unit that’s running too,” Day told trans.iNFO.

The methods criminals are harnessing to steal fuel and goods

As far as Day is concerned, the UK is “rich pickings” for fuel and cargo thieves. Day also stresses that the methods being deployed by the thieves are numerous and often highly organised.

According to Day, the gangs carrying out the thefts understand driver’s hours and even have people with HGV licenses within their ranks. “It’s a bit like the wild west,” Day told trans.iNFO.

Photo credit: Fuel Theft Solutions

Day notes that drones are being used by criminals to study locations from above, including distribution centres. He adds that thieves have even used quad bikes to quickly steal and drag away 1000-litre bowsers.

Moreover, some criminals are disabling the lighting at service areas to aid their thefts, while GPS jammers are also being harnessed to block telematics systems and mobile phone signals. In addition to this, Day states that internal theft is on the rise too, particularly when it comes to fuel at construction sites.

It doesn’t end there either. Day says that more elaborate methods being deployed include sending individuals to business premises to conduct fake surveys, the data from which will be used in future theft attempts. On top of this, Day stresses that social media groups are being regularly monitored in the event a driver discloses whose goods he/she is transporting and asks fellow drivers for tips on parking locations.

Trackers are another problem. Day warns that there have been instances in which drugs have been attached to the underside of a trailer along with a tracker. This is typically done when a driver has parked up and left the area for a toilet or coffee break, the criminals then pick up the drugs later in the day once the lorry has continued further on its expected journey. Naturally, if lorry drivers are caught with the drugs, they could be in line for a significantly long prison sentence.

How can hauliers reduce the risk of fuel theft?

Given all of the above, what can road transport companies do to protect themselves from fuel and cargo theft?

Although there are some security technologies hauliers can utilise, including those offered by Day’s own company, Day actually believes intelligence to be the most important factor.

When it comes to anti-siphon devices, Day told trans.iNFO:

“Anti-siphons are great for imagery, but bad in terms of practicality. What thieves will do when they can’t go through the anti-siphon is just cut through the sender unit on top of the tank. And then you’ve got a vehicle that’s basically immobile because you can’t get fuel in and out of the tank. Then it ends up being a recovery job. So anti-siphons are good as a visual deterrent, but they don’t actually deter prepared thieves who are tooled up with allen keys, drills, and portable grinders.”

Another option some companies are opting for is to use fuel dyes, such as Diesel Dye. These create the ability to brand fuel stock, and act as a deterrent to theft as marked fuel makes the re-sale and disposal of that fuel more difficult.

“We work with NaVCIS [The UK’s National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service], and if they come across any blue fuel, we get notified. We can then put a crime to a location,” said Day.

As we referred to earlier, it is nonetheless intelligence that Day considers key.

“I would personally advise companies that intelligence is key. Things evolve and move so quickly. It’s phenomenal. Drivers choose services because they know they’ll be toilets, showers and other essential facilities. But these drivers could be unknowingly driving into a crime hotspot on any given night. It sort of blew my mind that drivers are just parking up on a nightly basis with no up-to-date data on what’s been going on there recently,” Day told trans.iNFO.

Day also stressed the importance of information being made available to the drivers themselves:

“There are significant shortcomings in this country when it comes to getting intelligence to where it’s needed. We don’t want to deliver intelligence to some office somewhere, but rather to security teams and lorry drivers.”

Moreover, Day told trans.iNFO of his surprise that more transport management systems don’t have data regarding freight crimes implemented within their systems.

“The attitude you’ve got from a lot of drivers is, “I’m not being paid to be a security guard”. So how do you deliver that intelligence to the front line to give the drivers the tools they need to reduce the risk, reduce insurance and downtime, not to mention the vehicle and brand damage? I’m focused on the front line, because that’s where we can mitigate the risk. There’s many organisations like TAPA, that provide more back office data. The problem with that is that it doesn’t get delivered to the front line. That’s where the risk is, not within the walls of an office,” stressed Day.

The role that Parking Platforms could play

Finally, Day was also keen to highlight the role that major parking platforms could play.

He feels that the company’s influence could hold enough sway to motivate parking and service station operators to beef up their security:

“They’re one of the biggest influential players that could make an impact. They could warn certain locations that they’ll be taken off the payment system’s network if improvements to the security are not made within a stated time period. These Platforms are influential because they dominate lorry parking at the moment,” Day told trans.iNFO.