Criminal Justice

Hacked info and legitimate trucks help sophisticated bandits drive off with big loads of nuts

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It looked like an ordinary job, as a commercial truck drove up to a nut supplier in California’s Central Valley one day last November and loaded up 45,000 pounds of shelled pistachios.

But the seemingly legitimate shipment arranged by a broker with standard—albeit a bit sloppy—paperwork was in fact a $450,000 heist by sophisticated bandits. They often use hacked information to make big agricultural cargo thefts look legitimate, reports the Los Angeles Times (sub. req.).

“We basically handed the load over to the driver,” said Kirk Squire, who serves as grower relations manager for the victimized Tulare-based company. “It wasn’t a robbery. It was a legitimate pickup by a fictitious trucking company. It’s fraud. There was no violence; there was nothing.”

The local industry is banding together, and a group of farmers, processors and shippers met Thursday in Modesto in an effort to develop strategies against such fraud. However, they have an uphill battle to fight, transportation specialist Scott Cornell of Travelers Insurance tells the newspaper.

A common tactic, he said, is to create a fake company, hire a legitimate trucking firm to collect the load of nuts, then divert the driver to a different warehouse when he is en route with the stolen goods.

“The reason they hire a legitimate trucking company is that company is going to have nothing to hide when they go for the pickup,” Cornell explained. “All their information is going to be legitimate. … They a have no idea they’re participating in a theft. They just think they’ve been hired to pick up the load.”

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Riverbank) has proposed the creation of an agricultural cargo crime task force to fight these kinds of thefts.

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