Alert: Brokerage fuel-advance scams on the rise with sophistication of identity thieves

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At the Truckstop.com user conference a couple weeks back, company Director of Assurance Services Sonny Smith hosted a session that detailed one brokerage’s experience with a scam that’s seeing increasing use by thieves “posing at successful brokers, shippers and carriers,” Smith said, “using falsified documents, throw-away phones – they’re luring carriers through falsified BOLs and rate confirmations” to haul loads they’ve already fraudulently obtaining themselves by stealing an independent carrier or owner-operator’s identity and fooling the brokerage on the other end.

Once the unsuspecting trucker picks up the load, the thieves then request fuel-advance cash from the broker, bag the money and disappear as if into the ether.

The scammers often target long-haul cross-country loads to give themselves plenty of time, after pickup, to collect the advance and avoid early detection.The scammers often target long-haul cross-country loads to give themselves plenty of time, after pickup, to collect the advance and avoid early detection.

Smith calls it “currently the most common scam” out there.

NATCO Transportation Vice President Cori Eckley has seen it up close and in person. She told the story of a load going from California to New Jersey that the company tendered to a B&G Trucking in California, whose authority checked out. “Nothing outside the norm” has occurred here, she said, but for the fact that the B&G she is talking to is not the B&G she thinks it is.

“Now the scammer evolves to a new role,” she said, transitioning its name to “Runaway Freight” and posing as a broker with an available load, boosting the rate posted to the board to entice an unsuspecting trucker and spoofing NATCO’s rate confirmation to contract with another carrier, who doesn’t realize anything is untoward until he/she gets well down the road, the thieves have banked the fuel-advance money and the carrier can’t find the broker that owes him/her for the load’s transport.

What happens at this stage is that the carrier goes after the shipper and, in the case mentioned above, the shipper notifies its broker, NATCO, who’s now on the hook to pay a carrier it doesn’t know at a rate it never agreed to.

For a carrier, that might sound like a win, but, if you do in fact receive payment, there’s the rigamarole in identifying and then arguing your case with the befuddled/conned broker for payment, for one, and also the ever-present possibility that you could be the other carrier party in this transaction and be conned yourself by having your business identity used for fraudulent activity.

Avoiding both of these is a matter of due diligence with maintenance of your DOT profile to guard against identify theft, and basic background checking of any broker or broker’s agent you’re working with whom you don’t know from prior experience, noted Smith and others. If an agent is talking to you from a phone number you can’t identify as being tied to the company he/she claims to work for, proceed warily. Confirm their employment with the brokerage’s listed office. If you can’t do that, don’t proceed.

If you’re not in the habit of using your DOT-issued PIN to log in and update/check the details on your U.S. DOT carrier profile, make it a habit. Business identity thieves have seen some success, noted Jim Becker, CEO of the Becker Logistics brokerage, both “reactivating old [carrier and brokerage] authorities” under scam addresses and contacts as well as stealing the “identity of a carrier” that’s currently operating. “It happens all the time.”

As a routine matter, review your contact information within the DOT’s system and make certain nothing has changed. If it has, take action immediately to correct the problems and, also in the event that you get involved in a scam such as this, not only to notify local FBI contacts/other law enforcement about it but also the DOT’s whistleblower hotline, said Becker. Access DOT’s Office of Inspector General whistleblower hotline information at this link.

Any load board service used by thieves to facilitate such a scam, too, ought to be involved in the process. Smith said his office at Truckstop.com is a “fully staffed security department. We have the ability to [identify] carriers and brokers that have morphed” identities. With “a lot of new carriers and new brokers coming onto our networks, we try to teach them what it means to operate within acceptable industry practices. Some challenge our ability to kick them off of our system – but we do it if we have to.”

The security department is available via security@truckstop.com, noted Smith, who also said it offers a vetting service for brokers who are hiring agents. “If they have bad history at Truckstop.com, they may be denied” when it comes time to use the board.

Finally, stay on your toes with your eyes open to things that seem “too good to be true,” like that high teaser rate thieves in progress may post. “Fraud doesn’t always look the same,” said Becker. But “if it looks like a fox, and it smells like a fox,” you could be in for a raw deal.

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