Of course, getting carried away and letting slip what you are carrying on board your truck is easily done. You only need to get engaged in conversation with someone you meet and are getting on well with and ‘hey bingo’, caution gets thrown to the wind. It happened only weeks ago on one of the UK’s most popular radio programmes. A freight driver happily announced that he was about to start a long journey into Europe carrying electronic items. That’s the sort of talk that causes the ears of thieves to prick up.
But nowadays, of course, there’s the other issue – social media. Tweeting about where you’re parked up with your HGV, what you’re carrying and where you are heading is a theft waiting to happen. You could easily become a lamb to the slaughter – a slaughter being the term given to the theft and immediate strip-down of heavy goods vehicles into component parts that are either passed on through the black market, or sold to metal dealers.
It is estimated that freight crime costs the UK economy around £1 billion a year. The UK lags only behind the Netherlands and Germany in the freight theft statistics table, now having moved ahead of Italy, where mafia gangs have long targeted loads. Electronics are stolen in 20% of cases across Europe, but the figures last available from TruckPol, in the third quarter of 2011, show that a mix of FMCG items fall into the hands of thieves, with food and beverage, alcohol, clothes and shoes and metals actually being stolen more regularly than electronic items.
That takes us back to the fact that many of these thefts are opportunistic and occur when the wrong information falls into the wrong hands, or when drivers park up in the wrong place. The latter is a particular problem for foreign haulage drivers - often unaware of the haulage theft hotspots and where safe parking areas can be found. Around seven in ten cargo thefts across Europe occur when the vehicle is stationary. In the UK, vehicles parked in isolated lay-bys, around the country’s major arterial routes, are particularly vulnerable.
Many opportunistic thefts occur when lorries are parked up. Their vinyl or plastic sides are slashed open, enabling the gang to offload cargo into their own HGV vehicle. Yorkshire was the county where most crime occurred in the third quarter of 2011, with 125 HGV theft-related incidents in West Yorkshire and 74 in South Yorkshire. Next came the Metropolitan Police area and then Gwent. Since then, statistics have been rare-to-find, with TruckPol disappearing in 2012, due to a loss of funding, before its re-launch in March 2014. Hopefully, we will soon have a more complete picture of what thefts are happening and where.
But it is not just on the road that HGV loads are stolen. In around a quarter of cases, theft occurs from the haulier’s own premises and some crimes are inside jobs. Keeping information about routes and cargo close to the chest is a transport manager’s best rule, while ensuring that vehicle keys are safely locked away, and not left on view on pegs that identify the lorry they belong to, is just common sense. Hacking in to the transport management database also isn’t unknown, so keeping your software updated and protected is also vital.
Gauntlet Group, which offers highly competitive haulage insurance, as well as risk management analysis and advice, says drivers should be aware of the warning bells that signal a possible theft in the offing. These are:
- Suddenly being informed of a change of delivery address
- Having a route change suddenly imposed on you
- Finding that someone is rather too keen to know about your route and load
- Returning to your vehicle and spotting some form of tampering with the load
- Receiving a random call from some purporting to need to know your whereabouts
- Being flagged down in an isolated area by a fake police patrol or VOSA officer (you can actually put a Vulnerable Load Card in your cab that advises that you are instructed to not open your door, but will follow a police officer to a station, if required to do so).
- Being flagged down by other HGV drivers claiming to need assistance with a breakdown or puncture
- Arriving at a delivery premises to find a company ‘representative’ directing you to a supposed different loading bay around the corner (the London Shuffle tactic)
It also advises drivers to:
- Not get in to a routine of stopping in certain places on a regular run
- Refuel before leaving the depot, if possible.
- Verify any instructions to change your route or delivery destination before following them
- Travel in convoy with drivers that you trust
“Gauntlet’s view is that hauliers should not allow careless talk to cost them their livelihood,” says director, Ian McCarron. ‘We would even suggest that haulage companies put a social media policy in place and have it written into employee contracts, so that no employee is allowed to post status updates about their route, movements or load.
“The theft of a tractor unit or trailer could be devastating to many road freight companies, causing delivery disruption and a possible loss of contracts and client goodwill. Around 85% of hauliers have fleets of six vehicles or less, which puts into perspective the impact that the theft of one vehicle can have.
“Hauliers need to get the right insurance and risk management advice in place, ensuring that they use as many tactics as possible to deter road freight thieves. If they let an expert deal with their insurance, they may also be able to put a saving on their premium towards new security measures.”
More information about Gauntlet’s haulage insurance and risk management services can be found at www.gauntlethaulageinsurance.com Gauntlet has access to many different insurance schemes, from Lloyds of London and leading insurers, and sources the best insurance options for each individual client.