Merchandise on wheels: why thieves are stealing cargo trucks

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, there's an estimated $5 billion worth of cargo theft in Canada every year. Angelique Magi, of the Guarantee Company of North America explains why customers should care.

$471,000 worth of Blundstone footwear were stolen in July in Woodstock

Over $850,000 in stolen goods and massive transport trucks were recovered in Hamilton in March of 2015. (Hamilton police)
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, there's an estimated $5 billion worth of cargo theft in Canada every year. Angelique Magi, of the Guarantee Company of North America explains why customers should care.

Why would anyone steal $100,000 worth of blueberries from a trucking yard in Hamilton or $471,0000 worth of Blundstone footwear? Angelique Magi from the Guarantee Company of North America says it's because cargo trucks are "rolling merchandise" and easy for a quick getaway.

The shipment of Blundstones belonged to Jim Langeveld's Country Cargo in Woodstock, Ont. The truck was stolen in July, he says, hotwired by pro's. 

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), there's estimated to be approximately $5 billion worth of cargo theft in Canada every year. Only a fraction of the stolen goods, which range from lobsters, to steaks, to shoes, are ever recovered. 

Magi spoke with the CBC's Conrad Collaco about why consumers should care about cargo theft. You can read an abridged and edited version of the interview or listen to the full audio interview by hitting the play button above.

Angelique Magi, Guarantee Company of North America 
Angelique Magi, the National Vice-President of Transportation and Strategic Initiatives for the The Guarantee Company of North America. (The Guarantee Company of North America)

So why are trailers such an appealing target for thieves?

Not to be glib about it but they are rolling merchandise, so it is very easy for a thief to be able to take another tractor and hook it up to a trailer and very quickly get away with any amount of goods that are in the trailer.

It wasn't too long ago, back in February of 2017, that Hamilton police reported $100,000 worth of blueberries and other fruit stolen from a commercial refrigeration truck here in Stoney Creek. That operation seem to be quite sophisticated. How sophisticated are these thefts usually?

They range. So, you've got what I would call three main areas. You've got the opportunists, where they see a tractor and they see a trailer and they don't really know what's in there but they're going to roll the dice and maybe it'll be something good that they can quickly offload. Then there are the shoppers, where they are specifically targeting a manufacturer or a good and they know what they want and they're going after it. And then you've got this sophisticated organized distribution networks where they will target a group of commodities across the spectrum. I've had a situation where I had a customer have their identity scraped off of the internet. A tractor that looked like theirs was stolen separately. The thieves re-decaled the tractor and the trailer to look exactly like that trucking company. The shipping invoices were forged. The driver I.D. cards were forged and the thieves went right into a distribution warehouse and rolled out with a load of chicken. 

That's sounds like it might be organized crime. Is that your conclusion as well?

It takes a lot of effort to go to that length and you're not just doing it once if you're actually going to that level of sophistication. So, I would say that there is definitely an organizational structure behind it.

It is very easy for a thief to be able to take another tractor and hook it up to a trailer and very quickly get away with any amount of goods that are in the trailer.- Angelique Magi

I mentioned the theft of the blueberries in 2017. How common is the theft of food?

Food is one of those items where it's really easy to move. A tractor trailer load of blueberries — moving those might be a little bit more difficult but consumables are the top targeted items because they can be moved very quickly. With something like food it could be offloaded to a legitimate food distribution network that might be servicing restaurants throughout Ontario. It could be that they're going to put them in farmers markets. It could be that they're going to be putting them in corner stores. So, consumers aren't necessarily thinking about where that good came from when we're stopping at a corner store to grab something. That's why food is so easily and prevalently targeted.

Before the consumer pays for the stolen blueberries, as an example, the vendor would have contact with someone who might have been involved in the theft. What do vendors have to do to stop this cycle?

In some cases they may know. It's an easy way for them to get cheap goods that they can actually resell. But, in most cases they may be down the chain. They may not even know that they are actually moving stolen goods in any kind of way. That's what we talk about with the organized distribution network. They look and feel like a legitimate distribution play.

Why should all of this matter to the consumer who picks up a pint of blueberries at a farmer's market?

It all trickles down. We're going to top probably 50 million dollars already in Ontario this year in cargo crime and we're not even into the latter half of the year. It trickles down in increased insurance premiums for trucking companies. It trickles down in the fact that on a good — I'll use the blueberries as an example — there's only a season for those and if there is a reduction in supply then the cost is going to go up for the next pint of blueberries for the company that had them stolen because they had to reproduce and actually get that out to market. 

Is this a crime that police are spending a lot of time and resources on?

I feel for the police forces. We had a huge representation on the Canadian trucking alliance task force. Their frustration is that they will put the effort in. They know that they are potentially going up against an organized network. They make an arrest and they go before the courts and it's considered a property crime. If it's a repeat offender, there is no kind of conviction that deters them from doing it again. So, there's a level of frustration for the police to be able to stop this from  happening when there isn't a deterrent in the court system or the actual laws that are in place to warrant a change.

What kind of deterrent would you like to see?

The profile needs to be raised again. I think that there needs to be an understanding what the impact is to the economy and I think that there needs to be some digging into what is around these organized networks and who they are and what they actually mean to our economy and to the safety and public safety because it's not just cargo crime they're involved in.




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