Thick with Thieves

| April 07, 2005

Some cargo thefts are daringly simple: steal any rig, roll down the highway a couple of miles and open it up. If you can sell what you’ve got, take it. If not, leave it there. If thieves fear GPS location they might leave the trailer on the side of the road for a day or two. If no one comes for it, they go back and unload.

Often collusion is minor. A driver will show up with a few cases of goods missing and claim the count at the pickup was wrong. Other times a driver will sell the goods right off the truck. That happened to Anna Beck, one of the owners of Zippaway, a small, Texas-based less-than-truckload carrier. One of her drivers was caught by Los Angeles police in a bad neighborhood. “He had the doors open and was selling stereos,” she says.

Even though the driver had worked for her for two years, experts say Zippaway should have been prepared for the situation because the driver had a felony background. But a more recent case involving Beck’s company is more illustrative of the problems fleets face. In December, one of Zippaway’s drivers was delivering a load of picante sauce to a grocery distribution center in South Carolina. The driver was told to back up his trailer and wait, Beck says.
As he watched the lumpers unloading his van, he saw them also loading an empty trailer.

Suspicious, the driver discovered the lumpers had made off with 12 custom, highly-polished automobile wheels that he was to deliver the next day. The wheels, worth $2,000 to $3,000 each, were recovered by police, but were damaged, and Zippaway had to absorb a $30,000 loss. Beck says no arrests were made by police, who told her that a crime ring was operating out of the grocery center.

“That center has numerous problems,” she says. “They’re stealing cigarettes and shrimp.” Beck tried to work through the local police. She was even able to give officers the name badge of one of the lumpers, which fell off in the back of the trailer. But no arrests were made.

Some thefts are not reported, say lawmen, because a company does not want other thieves, or sometimes even rival companies, to know they haul highly prized cargo on certain routes. That’s not an unfounded fear, says Petow. Thieves work hard to track down loads, looking to chart who hauls what to where.

Fencing on eBay

A decade ago, cargo thieves took stolen goods to swap meets and flea markets to dispose of them. Now the Internet is a popular outlet. Danbee Investigations President Barry Brandman says he can go online and usually buy his clients’ products back within a few days of a theft.

Thieves are using auction websites that specialize in wholesale and bulk purchases, and even post goods on auction giant eBay. “One person we caught through eBay was selling Rolex watches,” Brandman says. “We tracked serial numbers and knocked on his door in Pittsburgh. He was an attorney and is now under indictment.”

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