Fraud driving cargo thefts in Russia, says report

Crime involving road freight fell by more than a third (35 per cent) in Russia last year, as restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic affected the ability of thieves to undertake their activities undetected.

That's one of the findings of a new report from international freight insurer, TT Club, digital cargo theft data specialist IMPACT, and the Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA), which also shows a dip in the average value stolen shipments to around $39,000 from $43,000 in 2019.

The economic impact of the pandemic had an effect on the types of foods targeted by the criminals, says the document.

Food and beverages remained the most targeted product category in 2020 – accounting for 28 per cent of all incidents – although was a trend towards theft of necessities rather than luxury items.

Metals and household appliances were also common targets, along with sporting goods, pharmaceuticals and tobacco. Construction materials and alcohol were two notable reductions last year.

As in 2019, the 2020 report found fraud was by far the most common modus operandi of thieves, accounting for around 83 per cent of all incidents and featuring methods such as using falsified documents to take charge of a shipment, and then redirecting drivers in transit by phone for unloading at a place not specified in transport documents.

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That approach has become widespread in Russia as it is challenging to build evidence to identify the criminal party. The balance was almost entirely theft from parked vehicles, a category which is in decline, according to the report.

“The methodology of criminal organisations are distinct and fall into two primary categories: the driver being diverted by phone to unload at an unauthorized location and the use of fraudulent identities to access cargo," commented Kiril Berezov, managing director of Panditrans, TT Club's Network Partner in Russia

"The ingenuity of the fraudsters is remarkable," he added. "They have sound knowledge of how the supply chain operates."

An example of such an incident in December 2020 involved the theft of a 1.75m rouble ($23,000) shipment of confectionary in Kursk en route to Ekaterinburg.

The driver produced forged ID, and after driving off the mobile numbers of both the dispatch and the driver were switched off. The cargo did not reach the intended destination, and six days later the same fake ID was used in a different fraud.

The report also notes that cargo theft in Russia is heavily under-reported, in common with many other parts of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) area and Europe. The accumulated annual losses exceed 10bn roubles ($130m).

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