Nut Theft Summit Stresses Education

Taylor Hillman Special Reports, Tree, nut & vine crops

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An emergency nut theft summit educated growers and packers on a sophisticated crime wave that is still ongoing and can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in loss. Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux says the theft is nothing new, but the extent and new ways criminals are executing the crime has elevated the concern of the industry.

Nut Theft Summit Stresses Education

Boudreaux says a $500,000 load of pistachios was recently stolen from Tulare County. In this case, Costco had ordered a load of pistachios that was suppose to be shipped up to Washington and instead ended up at ports in Los Angeles. Criminals are hacking the databases involved in the trucking and shipping process and changing the delivery information which makes the altered details look legitimate. The criminals then either steal the identity of the legitimate trucking company involved or divert an unsuspecting driver while on the road. The load is then delivered to an alternate location and divided up and shipped, often times overseas.

This isn’t just a pistachio issue. Boudreaux says this is a concern for all exports, especially nut crops where loads can value over a half a million dollars. Independent consultants and investigators that focus on transit theft talked at the emergency nut summit and labeled this type of theft as “False Pickups”. The challenge for law enforcement with these false pickups is the fact that it looks completely normal driving down the road. Once the nuts are picked up, the license plates are often switched out on the truck and will look like a registered hauler driving down the highway. Boudreaux says there is no way to identify the stolen nuts once the nuts are unloaded and there is no probable cause for law enforcement to stop a truck that checks out with all of its information.

Western Agricultural Processors Association and American Pistachio Growers hosted the nut theft summit where the theme was to educate the industry. Cyber crime can be hard to thwart, and Boudreaux says it will take an industry-wide effort to minimize the losses. Most speakers suggested getting bio-metrics of the driver before the load leaves the facility. Surveillance cameras can help, but officers say a thumb print can be a vital clue for them after a theft occurs. Boudreaux likened this crime to drug trade, only nut theft is more lucrative because the product is legal.