Crop-jacking: What your company can do about this growing threat

David Pollino
Posted by David Pollino

If you like nuts, you’re not alone. So do thieves.

Closeup on a bunch of pistachios.California’s nut processors are battling a wave of heists worth millions of dollars. The well-orchestrated diversion of truckloads of nuts is a reminder that in our age of cyber-crime, we can’t let our guard down on physical security.

The thieves conduct fictitious pickups to steal tree-nut cargo, focusing on high-value loads of almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews and hazelnuts, worth between $150,000 and $500,000 per load. Over the last three months more than 30 loads have been stolen — or crop-jacked — across the Central Valley.

One nut processor’s experience

One of California’s largest pistachio shippers learned of the growing wave of thefts the hard way last fall after a load of nuts vanished. When a truck arrived for a load headed to the East Coast, some of the paperwork on the order wasn’t quite in order, the processor’s manager of grower relations told me recently. After checking with the broker handling the order, the pistachio processor loaded the truck and sent it on its way. Within a few hours, law enforcement notified the processor that the shipment – worth $500,000 – had been diverted to Los Angeles, where many of the hijacked nuts end up.

Like many in the industry, the pistachio processor – a Bank of the West client – has worked with the Western Agricultural Processors Association to take precautions, including:

  • Schedule pickups at least 24 hours in advance to have time to prepare and verify paperwork.
  • Be on guard later in the week. Many heists occur on Thursdays and Fridays, when employees may be less vigilant heading into the weekend.
  • Be alert on shipments bound for the East Coast or other distant locations. These are hot targets because thieves may have more time to abscond with the goods before the recipient alerts the shipper the load never arrived.
  • Photograph and fingerprint drivers, and take photos of trucks, trailers, shipping documents, and the loads. This rigorous documentation may discourage thieves from striking.
  • Finally, if any paperwork or vehicle information seems off, don’t load the truck.

“The cost of not loading a trailer might be $1,000,” the grower relations manager said. “But losing a load of nuts is a lot of money. If it doesn’t look right, then just say no, don’t load the truck.”

How crop-jacking works

Legitimate trucking companies, grower-shippers, and processors use brokers or load boards that list prospective shipments online to arrange the pickup and delivery of goods. The term “fictitious pickup” describes crimes where fake identification and even fake businesses are used to steal cargo. Armed with false shipping papers, the thieves pose as legitimate truckers, and drive off with loads of high-value consumer-ready tree nuts.

The criminals often use high-tech tactics, hacking into trucking companies to steal their identities. Recent reports suggest that they have also hacked into the Department of Transportation’s shipping database, gaining information about legitimate drivers so they can forge convincing documents.

Another method is to pretend to be the tree-nut processing facility and call legitimate drivers, telling them there’s a problem with the load and asking for it to be dropped at another facility for inspection. Only later does it emerge that the load never made it to its intended final destination.

As a leading lender to growers, shippers, and the food processing industry, Bank of the West is here to help. If you have questions about crop-jacking or other business security issues, contact your relationship manager at the bank.

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  • Anonymous says:

    Wow! Old fashioned heists in this day and age. I guess it must be pretty easy to sell off the cargo. Just goes to show that you really have to do your due diligence every single time.

    Reply | 4 years ago

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