Rising tide of online shopping drives surge in courier vehicle hijackings

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The surge in online shopping has made courier vehicles prime targets for criminal syndicates and opportunistic thieves alike, according to Tracker, a vehicle tracking and stolen vehicle recovery company.

Online retail doubled from 2018 to 2020 because of the pandemic-induced demand for home deliveries, according to World Wide Worx. In 2020, it grew by 66%, followed by 40% in 2021, and in 2022, online retail surpassed R50 billion.

Crime aimed at online deliveries is highly lucrative, whether the objective is acquiring the delivered goods, seizing cash or devices carried by drivers, or commandeering the delivery vehicle, Tracker says its latest fleet crime report.

Where the hijacked loads have been reported to Tracker, 81% of these were fast-moving consumer goods, including alcohol, clothing, groceries, couriered parcels through online sales platforms, homeware, and medication.

Tracker says the tactics employed by criminals to hijack vehicles include “blue light gangs”, who deceive victims with unmarked vehicles and impersonate law enforcement officers; vehicle sabotage, where key features are tampered with during a routine truck stop so that drivers pull over later to inspect warning signals is another method; broken-down car scams; forced stops; and diversions.

In some cases, drivers collude with criminals, emphasising the importance of thorough background checks and robust organisational policies to deter insider threats.

South Africa’s freight and logistics market is estimated to be R435 billion in 2024 and is projected to reach R581bn by 2029. This crucial sector faces persistent threats from criminal activities, particularly transport-related crime such as fleet vehicle hijackings and cargo theft.

“The economic impact of fleet crimes extends beyond immediate losses for businesses. The loss of valuable cargo can disrupt supply chains, leading to delays in delivery schedules and increased costs for businesses and consumers. Moreover, delivery costs and insurance premiums for fleet vehicles may rise in response to higher levels of crime, adding further financial strain on businesses operating in high-risk areas,” Tracker says.

Business vehicles more likely to be hijacked than stolen

Tracker’s vehicle crime statistics for July to December 2023 reveal an increase in the volume of vehicle crime during the last half of the year, with a peak in November during “silly season” –shopping events such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the festive season frenzy. Additionally, business-owned vehicles are 56% more likely to experience vehicle crime compared to personal vehicles.

The Tracker Vehicle Crime Index aggregates information from Tracker’s more than 1.1 million subscriptions. Tracker’s data indicates that at a national level, hijackings still dominate, accounting for 55% of all vehicle crime incidents versus theft at 45%.

Although the theft ratio for personal vehicles is slightly higher at 52%, a business-owned vehicle has a far higher hijacking propensity at 64%. This means that a business-owned vehicle is almost twice as likely to be hijacked than stolen.

Gauteng remains the province with the highest volume of business vehicle-related crime, accounting for 56% of incidents. KwaZulu-Natal experiences 14% of these incidents, and the Western Cape 13%.

Relative to Tracker’s subscription count, the highest propensity towards business-vehicle crime is in Gauteng, which reflects a 17% over-representation of Tracker’s business-owned vehicle base. This is followed by KwaZulu-Natal, with a 12% over-representation. KwaZulu-Natal shows a high incidence of business-owned vehicle hijackings relative to Tracker’s business-vehicle base, with a 64:36 hijacking-to-theft ratio.

Western Cape business vehicles are less likely to experience vehicle crime relative to Tracker’s business-vehicle base, but business-vehicle crime in the Western Cape is overwhelmingly skewed towards hijacking, accounting for 82% of vehicle-crime incidents. This means it is almost five times likelier for a business-owned vehicle to be hijacked than stolen in the Western Cape.

There is statistically lower business-vehicle crime collectively for provinces other than Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape. However, the vehicle crime that occurs in these regions is again skewed towards hijacking, with a 63:37 hijacking-to-theft ratio.

Mitigation of fleet vehicle crime

Tracker says advancements in technology offer solutions to enhance fleet security.

Artificial Intelligence-enabled dashcams use facial recognition and live monitoring features via a dual camera system to detect both unauthorised cab access and external hazards around the vehicle. Control centres can be automatically alerted in real time, offering fleet managers a live look-in service, potentially preventing vehicle or cargo theft through tracking and theft retrieval services.

In addition to AI dashcams, leveraging vehicle telematics can provide valuable insights for route optimisation and incident management. Real-time tracking, analytics, and interactive dashboards enable fleet managers to make informed decisions and mitigate risks effectively.

Furthermore, incorporating safety features such as in-cab assist buttons for drivers, impact detection paired with emergency services dispatch, the ability of drivers to share their journeys with fleet managers, theft retrieval services, cargo door sensors, and on-demand armed response capabilities can further bolster fleet security. Trailer tracking units also aid in cargo recovery efforts, minimising losses in the event of theft or hijacking.

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