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Courier Robberies Rise, Pharma Recently Hit: Report


"It doesn't take much for a criminal to take stolen product and move it into legitimate channels," said one logistics intel analyst.

Last-mile couriers -- the local messengers that exist somewhere toward the bottom of the FedEx (NYSE:FDX)/ UPS (NYSE:UPS) food chain -- have been getting robbed with increasing frequency, according to FreightWatch International.

FreightWatch, an Austin, Texas-based logistics security firm, has recorded 29 last-mile courier thefts in 2013 so far, a huge increase from last year's total of 12. The latest, a pharmaceutical theft from a van outside a Modesto, California, hospital, occurred just a week ago.

As Dan Burges, FreightWatch's former director of intelligence, explained to me back in 2011, "Thieves will steal anything they can sell." (This is just one of the reasons eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) "currently has about 2,000 paid employees whose job it is to investigate reports of stolen goods, fraud, and other illicit activities," as detailed in the book Supply Chain Security: International Practices and Innovations in Moving Goods Safely and Efficiently, by Andrew R. Thomas.)

After a load of cargo disappears, it can be extremely difficult to identify it. "It doesn't take much for a criminal to take stolen product and move it into legitimate channels, where people may not even know they're buying stolen merchandise," Burges said.

Rig Secure, Inc., a cargo security concern out of Florida, explains how it's done:

[T]heft-based transportation is frequently masked by clever thieves who move these goods with reputable carriers in normal distribution channels. For example, a truck might be followed from its distribution center and then stolen at a truck stop. The goods are rushed to a public warehouse, and they are quickly off loaded. A fictitious company account is set up in advance for the arrival and short-term storage of these goods at a public warehouse or distribution center. That location is now used as the transship point and the new shipper (the thief) becomes the carrier client. In this loosely termed cross-dock operation, goods are never repackaged, but rather quickly reshipped as a full truckload to a port of debarkation, or to another break bulk facility on a clean bill of lading but under another shipper's name. Carriers have no reliable way to vet new clients, but rather accept the goods, move the freight, and are paid by the phantom new shipper, at times in advance. In the case of counterfeits or in more sophisticated criminal enterprises, goods may be further broken down and possibly blended with legitimate goods to mask any chance at traceability prior to re-shipping. In either instance, goods may be trucked to anywhere in the United States, Canada, or even Mexico. Some export goods are either taken through Miami on the east Coast and Long Beach on the west coast, then loaded on containers destined for South America, Russia, India, or other foreign ports in the world for further distribution.

But while pharmaceuticals are consistently on the most-stolen list, the breadth of goods stolen in any given year is truly remarkable.

"There was a truck full of sand stolen in Oklahoma in '07, a load of earplugs, five thousand dollars worth of alfalfa hay, plastic cups, [and] a trailer hauling lard," Burges recalled. "Then, there was the time someone stole an entire load of empty juice bottles."

"I don't think anyone was out looking specifically for empty juice bottles," he said. "But [the] opportunity presented itself and they took it."

Follow Justin on Twitter: @justinrohrlich.
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