MODESTO (KPIX 5) – Central Valley walnut farmers and law enforcement are teaming up to combat sophisticated criminals who are posing as truck drivers to steal large quantities of nuts.
Fake drivers have been appearing at processing plants across the Central Valley with what appears to be genuine paperwork, according to police. They receive fuel, loads of processed walnuts, and disappear. The farmers and processors learn they have been duped only when the real drivers show up.
“This area has been quickly ambushed with cargo theft,” said Scott Cornell, an Agricultural Theft Specialist.
Investigators said the heists may be part cyber-crime. It’s believed criminals hacked into farmers’ computer servers to generate delivery paperwork and time their pickups before the real drivers are supposed to arrive.
Nearly 150 farmers, processors and law enforcement are banding together to combat the nut thefts. They’re exchanging methods and ideas to stop the thieves who are stealing whole truckloads at a time. This year 31 truckloads have been stolen.
“And the value of those 31 thefts reported to them was $4.6 million,” said Cornell.
High-tech crime requires high-tech solutions and one company, Alpine Pacific Nut Company near Modesto, has never had a load stolen. They take their security seriously with fencing and cameras.
“Every driver that comes into our office is video taped coming in here. In addition, we’ll also take a still shot of the driver along with a thumb print of the driver. We’ll get their photo identification and all that information is compiled into our database,” said Alpine Pacific’s Brock Middleton.
Police say Alpine is doing exactly the right thing to prevent crime and it’s hoped other facilities adopt Alpine’s methods.
“Make sure you know exactly who you’re doing business with and are they who they say they are,” said Cornell.
Insurance companies have investigators working with local sheriffs, CHP and FBI tracking the trucks hoping to catch the thieves. Several leads may help solve some of the heists, investigators said, but it’s believed that some of the walnuts may have been shipped overseas.
On Monday, a California Assembly member introduced a bill aimed at developing standards for detecting and tracking cargo theft.