Online information helps thieves steal more than passwords
November 1, 2013

Any information placed online runs the risk of someone using it illegally. Passwords are particularly easy to hack, and authentication questions are unlikely to stop a determined cyberthief. The name of someone's favorite dog or their high school mascot might be found through Facebook or other methods, defeating the purpose of the authentication process. In many cases, people have their credit card details or other important credentials stolen. Rarely do they have their livelihoods taken from them, though. 

Not so for the trucking industry, where cyberthieves will access online databases to steal the identity of freight hauling companies, the Associated Press recently reported. Security precautions implemented in the past few years have reduced the chance that someone will drive off with a load of goods. GPS can track down a stolen truck without much difficulty, while advanced lock and alarm systems can be difficult to bypass. But if merchants and manufacturers believe that a driver's authorized to transport merchandise, they won't think to report or follow where items go until it's too late. 

Corporate identity theft
Scam artists are able to impersonate legitimate trucking companies by spending as little as $300 to the Department of Transportation in order to reactivate carrier numbers. This provides the thieves with a reputation that they can leverage to underbid competitors for shipping freight, which they pickup and steal with none the wiser until the goods fail to arrive at the intended destination. 

The frequency of these acts has cost companies up to $216 million, and likely more due to unreported incidents. Although most stolen trailers are taken outright without anyone scamming businesses, CargoNet analysis indicates that the trend is growing 6 percent per quarter and it's already involved in one out of five stolen loads. Earlier this year, Truckinginfo reported that this recent trend almost caused the number of freight thefts in 2012 to match the record high set in 2011

Avoiding theft
To contend with these thefts, professionals in the freight industry should watch for suspicious activity. The California Farm Bureau Federation stated that temporary name placards or identification numbers on the truck, sudden changes in pickup times and the absence of a GPS tracking system on the vehicle are all signs that the hauler may be a freight thief. 

However, preventing the crime at the source may be a more effective means of stopping the problem. Reducing companies' reliance on readily available information can minimize the chance that their employees are impersonated. As scam artists receive their trucking company information from the Department of Transportation, government officials may also want to invest in systems that can verify the identity of anyone reactivating an account. Either reducing the amount of data available about trucking companies or enhancing transparency about them could spare the manufacturer or recipient of products a good deal of trouble. With less information, scam artists would have more difficulty finding out enough about companies. With more, recently reactivated carrier numbers could be recognized by anyone hiring freight haulers. 

Thumb printing is another way that companies can verify the hauler's identity. Bring your own credentials (BYOC) systems that recognize individuals based on credentials from legitimate institutions, such as banks, could also reduce the chance of a scam, in part because thieves would be unlikely to use unique identifiers for themselves when engaging in illegal activity. 

In either case, the incidents serve as another sign that people should take care with the information available online and that identity theft can often be achieved with too much ease. More robust security measures are needed to avoid these problems.