There was a time when even the most experienced and hardened supply chain security professionals questioned whether the criminal M.O. of ‘Theft from Moving Vehicle’ was a genuine reality; who in their right mind is going to risk theira life by trying to steal from a truck while it speeds along a highway at 80km/h?
Now, PostNord and Swedish Police have provided the clearest evidence to-date – and it comes with a very happy ending…
Two years ago, UK law enforcement officers asked for TAPA’s assistance to prove the phenomena was real to a judge presiding over a court case involving such thefts. Even the judiciary – which is undoubtedly presented with all sorts of outlandish criminal behaviours on an almost daily basis – needed to be convinced.
As TAPA members know, however, attacks on moving trucks are not only real, they can prove to be extremely costly for Manufacturers and Logistics Service Providers.
In July, this M.O. again hit the headlines in the Netherlands when Dutch Police successfully concluded a two-year investigation with the arrests of five Romanians believed to have been involved in 17 Theft from Moving Vehicle crimes in Europe. The police raid on a holiday park in Gelderland followed an attack on a truck carrying Phones on a quiet section of the A73 between Venray and Venlo. Reports say nearly 1,000 phones were taken by the offenders with a value of some €590,000. Officers also recovered the specially-modified SUV that facilitated the gang’s activities.
Weeks later, another major loss, involving Phones valued at €236,833, took place in the UK when thieves followed a truck travelling along the A417, A42, M1 and M6 main roads and motorways between Northamptonshire and the West Midlands. The offenders reportedly followed the truck from a logistics centre.
Murky film footage first emerged from Romania in 2012 that showed a Theft from Moving Vehicle in progress, proving the M.O. beyond all doubt. In recent weeks, PostNord, a leading supplier of communication and logistics solutions to, from and within the Nordic region which ensures postal service to households and businesses in Sweden and Denmark, has taken Theft from Moving Vehicle detection to a whole new level. In proactively sharing the successful outcome of its investigation to raise the profile of such attacks, PortNord has helped to send the strongest possible message to organised criminal groups engaged in such activities that companies and law enforcement agencies have the capability and technology to stop criminals in their tracks; surely the ultimate deterrent.
Early in 2009, one of the first cases to come to light was when an Express truck travelling at 60 KPH showed an alarm on its GPS tracking system when the back doors on the truck where opened whilst the vehicle was in motion. On that occasion, mobile phones had been stolen and the driver and mate quickly eliminated from the Police enquiry.
PostNord has subsequently released a remarkable two-minute film which provides the clearest-ever insight into a Theft from Moving Vehicle whilst in progress. Best of all, it ends with the suspects being taken into custody by police officers, which has since led to the gang members being prosecuted in a Swedish court; the best possible conclusion to the comprehensive and thorough preparatory work and good cooperation between Swedish Police and PostNord.
So, how did the investigation and arrests come about?
During the summer, PostNord became aware of recurring thefts from trucks on a specific stretch of highway between Vara and Alingsås in the Swedish county of Västra Götaland. When the same company kept suffering from thefts of valuable items, Alexis Larsson, Head of Security and Claims at PostNord, decided to get to the bottom of the matter. His security team conducted a survey of the relevant times of day, stretches of road and cargoes, and was eventually able to distinguish a pattern. When they were sure where the crimes were being committed, Alexis contacted the police in the area.
“It is extremely unusual to catch a gang involved in this form of advanced crime – breaking open locks and getting into a truck at high speed. But thanks to the close cooperation with the police in Alingsås, we succeeded. Our highest priority is to deliver the goods to our customers safely, so we constantly try to stay one step ahead of the criminals. This successful intervention confirms that we do our absolute utmost in this regard,” Alexis stated.
The criminal gang was captured one night in mid-September. A pair of hidden surveillance cameras had been installed in the trailer of a PostNord truck that was considered to be at risk. The most valuable goods had been moved elsewhere and the PostNord security team was watching the surveillance film in real-time on a tablet while in telephone contact with the driver. Unmarked police cars were also nearby.
“Suddenly I saw on the film how the back doors of the truck were opened and two men jumped in, from the hood of a car travelling right behind the truck at high speed and with no lights on. They looked through the cargo without finding what they were looking for, and were then about to leave the vehicle. That was when I told the driver to brake,” Alexis adds.
The braking meant that the men could not leave the truck because their own car had to brake and drop back. When the truck finally stopped and the men opened the back doors, they were met by a large police unit.
Vigilant spoke to Alexis Larsson after the news broke:
In terms of cargo crime in Sweden and the Nordic region what general trends have you seen in the last 1-2 years?
Reported cargo crimes are increasing in Sweden and most incidents occur during breaks and stopovers.
Does your intelligence suggest cargo crimes are being carried out by Swedish nationals or is there evidence of cross-border crime groups operating in the region?
PostNord assesses that crime against cargo has a higher percentage of international offenders than other types of crime in Sweden. There is some evidence of international professionals operating in Sweden as well as national Swedish criminals working together with international criminal networks to ship stolen cargo abroad.
Did you speak with other companies to ask if they were also suffering similar attacks?
We spoke with our competitors and after the first attacks they had no reports of similar crimes against them. Now, afterwards, we understand that there have been some incidents in southern Sweden, Norway and Denmark where they now believe that they might have the same issue.
Can you provide any information on the scale of these incidents?
There were four “successful” thefts during the summer and late summer where goods were stolen with a value of some €250.000. The products that were stolen were mainly Phones and Computers/Laptops. All these stolen products have been locked by the producer and according to the clients they can’t be used since all products have an individual IMEI-number or serial number that is used while using the internet. There is proof that goods have been sold in Romania and that these devices have been locked.
You have clearly implemented a series of very effective security measures. Is theft from moving vehicles the last gap you needed to close to ensure supply chain resilience?
There is an ever ongoing process to assess that the right security measures are taken and followed by the organisation. There will always be weaker spots in the supply chain as many routines depend on employees following manual routines. I would say that the weakest spot in Sweden is the lack of secure/safe parking.
Swedish Police have been very supportive of TAPA in terms of sharing cargo crime data. What was the response when you discussed your plan to catch thieves ‘in the act’?
The Swedish Police has a Transport Security Group but the operating resources are within the normal line of the Police Force. So we contacted the Police in the region where the thefts occurred. Since we had filmed evidence of a burglary being committed on a speeding truck, the Police believed us and had available resources to support PostNord’s operation on the morning of 16 September.
What has the outcome of this investigation demonstrated to you? What have you learned?
Criminals are willing to go very far and to take great risks to get their hands on high value goods (mainly electronics). The transport industry isn’t really built to battle these kinds of attacks but with the right attention and ambition you can succeed in arresting the most daring criminals. I, however, understand that it would be expensive to secure all transports against all types of incidents. As long as there are humans driving trucks there will always be the risk of theft in collaboration with external criminals as well as the risk that the driver may be robbed.
PostNord has been keen to publicise this investigation, presumably to deter future incidents. What response have you received from other companies, law enforcement agencies etc?
People working in security at our competitors are very happy that we were able to show that these kinds of thefts really happen and that they can happen in Sweden. Sometimes they believe that they have this type of problem but no one really believes them either. Now, we all have proof that this is a reality in Sweden. Hopefully, criminals will be deterred as the arrest of four thieves shows that at least PostNord is willing to go very far to protect our customers’ goods.
You used covert cameras inside the ‘target’ vehicle – could this become standard practice?
In the future I think cameras will be installed in some “high-value carriers”. In our case we had portable camera platforms since carriers are often changed to increase production efficiency and enable optimal use of carriers.
How difficult is it to stay one step ahead of cargo thieves? Obviously on this occasion you were successful but we know thieves are quick to find ways around new security solutions.
It is very difficult to be one step ahead, over the entire production line, across the entire country. I believe we have to work hard in making sure we have a reasonable secure process and that security is a natural part of every employee’s working day. To battle the most professional criminals, you must have a close cooperation with competitors and law enforcement, and maybe even pinpoint the worst criminal groups.
In this incident, the two people on the truck were arrested on the spot and we initially thought they only had one following car. We now believe two following cars may have been involved. The following car that drove close to the back of the truck tried to escape but police chased after them and caught two people in the car. If there was any traffic (at most times there was no traffic) the following car would first drive slowly to hold up traffic behind, and when they had established a long distance to the carrier they would quickly drive up to attack it, probably taking less than a minute to cut the padlock and enter the carrier. Then the following car would back off to slow down other vehicles again, and then do the same procedure as soon as the criminals called the car back. The unmarked police car following the transport a couple of kilometres behind did not notice a second criminal car. Important to understand is that the road where the attack occurred is a 80km/h road, remote, dark, low-to-no traffic and has only one lane, making it quite easy for criminals to make sure that there would be no one to interrupt them.
Have you suffered any other moving vehicle incidents since these arrests?
There have been no reports or suspected attacks involving similar incidents since the arrests.
What advice can you offer to any company that thinks it may be a victim of Theft from Moving Vehicle crime?
It is very difficult to succeed in catching these kinds of criminals in the act. It is much easier to change cargo flow or move high value cargo to the front carrier (if the transport has two carriers) than it is to plan an arrest. An operation which has the goal of arresting these kinds of criminals during an attack requires lots of resources and especially time because you will most likely be watching the cargo many nights without anything happening. I have very well motivated security personnel so we conducted several operations during holidays, nights and weekends until we finally caught them. So, if you have the ambition of arresting them, make the decision and prepare yourself to work for weeks or even months on top of your normal duties.
Given all of the various measures you are using to secure your supply chain, are your own cargo crime figures reducing?
Our assessment is that there has never been such an interest for high value goods from the criminals’ point of view as there is now. I can’t say that incidents are reducing or increasing. However, I can say that there seems to be a never-ending flow of people willing to commit crimes even though we catch them, one after the other.
How much cooperation is there between supply chain security stakeholders in Sweden and the region as a whole?
We have a very good cooperation and share of information between different stakeholders in Sweden. I just hope that cargo crimes could be of more interest for law enforcement since many crimes are never solved. As the situation is in Sweden, business security departments have to take on increasingly more responsibility in protecting goods, conducting investigations and gathering evidence for the police.
PostNord’s willingness to share information on this investigation has been praised by TAPA APAC’s Chairman, Tony Lugg, who said: “The film footage and intelligence shared by PostNord and its highly effective cooperation with Swedish Police is of tremendous value to the entire supply chain security stakeholder community. Their actions send a severe warning to criminals that however extreme attacks become on supply chains, industry will fight back – and the perpetrators of these crimes will ultimately be caught and prosecuted. This particular investigation will not only help to prevent future Theft from Moving Vehicle attacks, the high profile nature of this case has helped to raise the whole issue of cargo crime to a broad group of stakeholders, and for that we are extremely grateful. Sharing of incident intelligence is our best chance of making our members’ supply chains secure. I hope other companies will follow the example that has been set on this occasion.”
That’s the story… now watch the movie……