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Latest TAPA figures show road freight theft is growing at an alarming rate

In recent years, crime related to theft of cargo and trucks in Europe has spread like the plague. This is a problem that’s costing industry hundreds of millions of euros annually and can cause significant disruption to supply chains.

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In 2023, there was an increase in transport theft cases in the European Union by 35.46%. compared to 2022 – according to data from the Association for the Protection of Technological Assets (TAPA EMEA).

The data concerns incidents registered in the TAPA EMEA Intelligence System (TIS) database, i.e. the so-called incidents occurred (the total number of crimes that occurred, regardless of whether they were reported to the appropriate authorities).

The number of reported crimes last year increased from 6,113 to 8,281. The total loss for all crimes, when the value of stolen goods was reported, was EUR 549 million. This is an increase of 438% compared to 2022 and by as much as 1,076 percent compared to 2021.

Across the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa), the number of cargo thefts increased by almost 700% in 2023, from 13,008 to 103,529 incidents. The total loss resulting from these crimes has reached a staggering amount of over €724 million. This is an increase of 163% compared to 2022 and by 627%. compared to 2021.

The most incidents in 2023 took place in Germany (33.2% of all reported thefts), France (14.6%) and Italy (13.1%). Frequent cases also occurred in Sweden (12.7%) and Spain (11.3%).

The first quarter of 2024 can be considered comparatively successful as far as cargo theft is concerned. During the first 3 months of the year, 2,616 cases of cargo theft were recorded in the European Union. This is a decrease of 24% compared to the same period of 2022, albeit also a slight increase (of 2.1%) compared to Q4 2023.

The main factors causing an the increase in freight crime

In a recently published report on theft in the transport industry for 2023, the authors of BSI and TT Club indicate that high inflation is the main macroeconomic factor influencing cargo-related crime.

The authors of the report pointed out that the increase in prices, especially of basic and valuable products, directly translates into an increase in the number of thefts, because criminals adapt their activities to changing market conditions and focus on goods with limited availability.

As an example of where an increase in the value of a product can lead to increased criminal activity, the authors cited the case of the olive oil industry. This product has long been considered a valuable commodity, especially in the Mediterranean countries that are the main producers of olive oil.

From January 2021 to September 2023, olive oil prices increased by 75%, which is attributed to various factors, including climate change, which has affected the quantity and quality of harvests, as well as increases in energy and fertilizer costs. Price increases combined with limited supply have made the product an attractive target for criminals.

Olive oil thefts became increasingly common, and the product began to be called “liquid gold.” One of the most significant incidents took place in August last year, when thieves stole 56 tons of Extra Virgin olive oil from a warehouse in Cordoba. The value of the stolen goods was estimated at over PLN 500,000. euro.

The authors of the report also include low security awareness and security deficiencies as the main factors behind the increase in goods theft. Many thefts occur due to insufficient security measures during the transportation and storage of products.

In Europe, thefts from tarpaulin trailers are relatively common, as they can be accessed easily and unnoticed by cutting them. An example of such a situation may be the incident that took place in June last year in Wittenburg in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern near the A24 motorway. The perpetrators first cut the truck’s tarpaulin and then stole about 100 LG TVs for a total value of about €40,000. The driver was asleep in the cabin at that time and did not hear the thieves.

Organised criminal groups also use technology to plan and execute thefts. Thieves use more and more complicated methods – they forge documents, steal the identity of carriers, and make fictitious cargo pickups.

In recent months, there has also been a rise in the frequency of credit fraud attempts. They start with a seemingly normal business transaction – a new customer establishes cooperation with a forwarding or transport company. Initially, it is one transport order, which is to be the first in a series of planned orders.

The first transaction goes according to plan, which builds trust in the new customer. Encouraged by this, the logistics company agrees to handle subsequent, often larger and more valuable shipments. The customer gradually increases the value and frequency of orders. At some point, the customer orders urgent transport, for example by air, which involves higher costs. The logistics operator agrees to execute this order without prior payment. After the transport is completed, the customer suddenly disappears and the funds due are never credited to the account.

It’s no wonder that this method is gaining popularity. The logistics industry is based on relationships, and without showing trust, it is difficult to build credibility. In addition, conflicts, political instability and crises increase the risk of cargo theft as crime becomes more profitable and more difficult to combat.

Verifying new customers

Experts recommend transport and forwarding companies carry out detailed verifications on potential customers before establishing cooperation with them. Business have been advised to do the following:

  1. Check the details of new clients. This includes their full legal name and registered address, contact details (especially current telephone numbers and e-mail addresses), website address (check whether the client has a professional website that can provide additional information about their activities).
  2. Company verification: check the client’s main activity, legal form, registration number and VAT.
  3. Get acquainted with the company’s financial statements: analyse recent financial reports, financial conditions, and creditworthiness.
  4. Business Owner Verification: Check who owns the business and what their reputation is.
  5. Verification of key persons and intermediaries: check key persons responsible for management and their authorisations, as well as checking whether the contact person has the authority to sign contracts on behalf of the company.
  6. Check the company’s membership in audited government or similar programs: such membership may indicate a higher level of credibility and transparency of their business.
  7. Verification of insurance policy: confirm insurance for the transported goods and check clauses.
  8. Provide the customer with clear commercial terms and ensure the customer agrees to the terms of the contract, which can prevent later misunderstandings.

The most popular products are scarce ones

The nature of theft is largely influenced by market mechanisms occurring at a global and regional level. Data from recent years indicates that criminals adapt their activities to market conditions very quickly.

For example, in terms of overall share, theft of food and beverages has increased the most (from 16% in 2022 to 21% in 2023). This increase is down to the rising prices of food products and their limited availability. Moreover, a slight increase in the share of thefts of agricultural products (from 9% to 10%) has been recorded, reflecting trends related to global disruptions in supply chains.

Interestingly, in terms of overall share, fuel theft in 2023 remained at the same level compared to the year before. According to the report’s authors, this indicates constant demand for these goods, especially in the context of energy price fluctuations.

As for the theft of electronic equipment, records show a dip in overall share from 12% to 10%. Cars also made up a lower share of total thefts (down from 9% to 7%). However, in the case of metal products, the percentage share of overall thefts rose from 6% to 7%.

Safety advice for drivers

Here are some tips for truck drivers to make a valuable contribution to the safety of their cargo and transport:

  1. Do not leave the vehicle unattended, or leave it unattended for as little as possible.
  2. Only stop in well-lit and, if possible, guarded parking areas.
  3. Check the vehicle and load after every stop, especially if driving with a tarpaulin trailer.
  4. Inform the company of any change in route.
  5. Don’t talk to strangers about your route, destination or cargo.
  6. Don’t pick up hitchhikers

Criminals’ methods remain unchanged

The most thefts (20%) last year took place directly in warehouses, factories and other such facilities. A year earlier, there were 26% of such cases. Thefts from vehicles alone accounted for 14% of all incidents (up from 10%).

However, thefts of goods directly from containers or trailers decreased (from 15% to 13%), as well as the theft of vehicles with tractors (from 16% to 11%). Cases of theft of entire containers or trailers increased (from 5 to 11%).

The above results suggest that cargo theft methods have not changed significantly and criminals use proven strategies to achieve their goals. This is a good sign for transport and forwarding companies, which can increase the level of security in their supply chains based on this knowledge.

Theft prevention measures

Experts recommend the following preventive actions to protect cargo and means of transport:

  1. Cooperation with carriers to designate safe routes and stopping places.
  2. Identify high-risk areas and then avoid them.
  3. Training drivers in security awareness and responding to theft attempts.
  4. The use of technological solutions, e.g. light sensors inside trailers to detect attempts to cut tarpaulins, GPS monitoring, geofencing enabling immediate detection of deviations from a specific route, special locks securing access to the cargo space, and applications that point out safe parking spaces for trucks.
  5. Analysis of specific threats in given regions and the adaptation of security measures to them.
  6. Developing partnerships with local law enforcement and other businesses to share information and resources.

Are thieves most likely to steal from their own employers?

Without a doubt, an interesting phenomenon is the scale of thefts that are the result of internal activities. These cases include situations where employees involved in the supply chain use their positions to carry out or facilitate theft.

Although this problem exists in Europe, it is less common or less visible compared to Asia, which has the highest percentage of such cases. In 2023, as much as 26% of registered cargo thefts in Asia involved the participation of employees.

The most frequently involved in such crimes include warehouse workers, security guards and truck drivers. They often work in groups. The thieves’ methods are quite diverse – from smaller, large-scale thefts (unlike one-off large thefts, employees often steal smaller amounts of goods over a longer period of time) and falsifying documents to manipulating surveillance systems.

How to limit the risk of cargo theft by employees

In order to avoid theft involving employees, the following actions are recommended:

  1. Thorough checks when hiring. It is recommended to conduct detailed background checks on candidates for positions that have direct access to goods.
  2. Regular audits and monitoring. The introduction of regular internal and external audits and real-time monitoring systems can help identify irregularities and quickly respond to potential thefts.
  3. Training and awareness. Educating employees about the legal consequences of theft and the importance of professional ethics can reduce the risk of such actions.
  4. Access restriction. Application of a limited access policy, where employees have access only to those areas and systems that are necessary to perform their work.
  5. Application of technology. The use of modern technologies to monitor cargo and vehicles, including GPS and alarm systems.