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Red Flags that Alert Freight Brokers of Transportation Fraud

Ahh March…that time of year when winter finally loosens its bone-chilling grip and thoughts turn to those of spring, warmer temps and…fraud??  Yes, March is Fraud Prevention Month.  And as the thermometer gauge rises so do your chances increase for becoming a victim of fraud.  With that being said, this blog post is designed to share some facts and red flags that can help alert freight brokers or anyone else involved in the transportation or logistics industry of transportation fraud and hopefully keeps you from becoming a victim.

The truth is, no matter what industry you are in, chances are you either know someone or have personally been a victim of fraud.  Because when money’s involved, there is always a scam artist out there eager to separate you from your hard-earned cash.  And it’s no surprise that the transportation industry seems to be a favorite for thieves and scam artists.

In fact, the 2014 Global Economic Crime Survey reports that 39% of survey respondents reported transportation and logistics fraud specifically – far more than the 29% across all industries.  That number is most likely higher because many owners may be fearful to report fraud due to the impact it can have on a company’s reputation, employee morale, and relationships with its business partners.

The good news we don’t have to fall victim to fraud or theft.  Since awareness is the first step in prevention, let’s take a look at two of the most common types of fraud in our industry:

  1. Cargo Theft is probably the most straightforward example of fraud. It’s a multi-billion dollar enterprise that tends to take place during truck and/or container transportation, usually when vehicles are being loaded or unloaded.  Inbound Logistics reports that, “In the United States, the most highly sought after shipments are pharmaceuticals, consumer electronics, apparel, and food.  Any product can be stolen, of course, but these commodities are reported stolen most consistently”.

CargoNet recently released its Q3 2014 United States Theft Report and their top five findings were:

  1. There were 214 reported incidents of cargo theft this quarter, down 22% from Q3 2013 and up 28%from Q2 2014.
  2. The most costly theft was a $15 million burglary of processors.
  3. Washington State experienced a cargo theft crime wave this quarter, going from 0 reported cargo theft incidents in Q3 2013 to 7 in Q3 2014.
  4. Cargo theft decreased 52% on Friday.
  5. Truck stops were the most common theft location of Q3 2014.
  1. Fuel Advance Fraud is also known as a “double brokering scam.”  Logistics industry officials say it’s a rampant crime that’s hard to prosecute.  This type of fraud takes place when a criminal passes himself off as a carrier and accepts freight from an unsuspecting freight broker or freight agent.  He then turns around and brokers the freight to an actual carrier, in many cases for a higher price than the original customer agreed to pay!  He is able to do this because he has obtained documents from actual carriers and brokers and has altered them to convince his victims that he is part of a legitimate company.  Once the load is picked up, the scammer gets the BOL from the actual carrier and then faxes it to the original broker, requesting a fuel advance on the load.  He receives the money and then disappears with the money, never paying the actual carrier.  The money he makes from this sort of con typically range from $500 up to $2,000.  But it quickly adds up when he repeats the con again and again, each time using another name, a new phone number, and more phony paperwork.
What are the red flags of a possible scam?Rates that seem too high or too low – A scammer posing as a carrier may accept a load for less than the going rate in an effort to entice the freight broker or agent into doing the deal.  On the other hand the same scammer may offer a carrier more money than what the broker agreed to pay them, in order to motivate the carrier to take the deal and not ask too many questions.  Bottom line, if the rate “seems to be too good to be true,” it probably is so ask more questions and be sure who you are doing business with.

Schemed timing – Fuel advance scams occur more often later in the week and at the end of the day. Why? Because scammers know that freight brokers and carriers will many times become careless when they are faced with the possibility of not being able to cover a load with the day or week drawing near.  Scammers also like to make believe their driver has no money and will not be delivered on time unless they get a fuel advance.  Any time anyone you are dealing with is in too much of a rush, slow down, look in the mirror and make sure the word “sucker” or “victim” is not written across your forehead.

Unrecognized phone numbers – Scammers posing as a representative of a legitimate company will provide supposedly valid paperwork, counting on the fact that many will fail to check the telephone numbers to verify the person’s identity.  While having a different phone number from a company’s main office doesn’t always mean a broker or carrier is a scam artist, it still should be considered a red flag and a reminder to perform additional due diligence before moving forward.

Before issuing a fuel advance, take these precautionary steps…

  • Check the FMCSA’s Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) system website and make sure the DOT/MC number match with what the carrier has submitted.
  • Verify the phone number the carrier provides matches what is listed in his DOT registration.  You should also verify the carrier’s address and fax number matches, if it does not, make sure to address it with the carrier.
  • TIA members should always check the TIA WatchDog site to see if there have been any complaints about the carrier.

This may seem like a lot of work but consider how much is at stake financially.  Not only is the fuel advance amount on the line, your reputation with the shipper is as well and any future earnings.

Like it or not, this is the world we live in!  The fact is, if you are in any business long enough someone will likely try to scam you.  Below are some tips for freight brokers and freight agents on how to avoid being scammed.

  • If something seems too good to be true, it probably is!
  • Listen to your gut.  If something seems shady, proceed with caution.
  • Whenever someone you’re dealing with is in a rush and money is involved…just slow down.