Apparently, California Nuts Are The Target Of International Crime Rings

Image courtesy of Shelby Root

Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios make a great snack, or topper for your salad. But they’re also apparently irresistible to international thieves, who have reportedly pilfered $7.6 million worth of nuts from California over the past four years. Now, the industry and authorities are taking steps to crack up these nutty crime rings.

The Associated Press reports that an alliance of cargo shipping firms and law enforcement agencies are attempting to break up the sophisticated crime organizations that use high-tech tactics to exploit weaknesses in the cargo shipping industry to reap big profits of the nut crops in California.

The high-cost nut heists are often pulled off when an organization hacks into trucking companies to steal their identities. They then pose as legitimate truckers and drive off with loads of almonds, walnuts, and pistachios to be sold for as much as $500,000 on the black market in Europe or Asia.

Authorities say California has become a target of these thieves as it produces more almonds, walnuts and pistachios than any other state with a combined value of $9.3 billion in 2014, the Associated Press reports.

Just last year, farmers in the state lost an estimated $4.6 million from 31 reported nut heists, according to CargoNet, the alliance working to prevent such losses in the future.

The manager of one nut company says his business was targeted six times last year, accounting for an estimated $1.2 million loss.

In each case, the AP reports, the thieves stole roasted cashews that were slated to be salted and packaged in Fresno.

“It’s made my life miserable,” he says. “You get hit with that kind of loss — it hurts.”

In an attempt to prevent such losses this year, the company has implemented several new safeguards, including taking photographs and finger prints of the 25 drivers who visit the shipping area each day.

The Tulare County Sheriff’s office has also been on the lookout for such heists. Last year the department received six cases. In one instance authorities were able to track a load of nuts and arrested the driver.

The heists have also caught the attention of federal authorities. An agent with the FBI declined to identify any organization involved in the thefts, but noted that the criminals are “not just some teenage kids ripping off nuts, these are sophisticated people.”

International crime ring targeting California almonds, walnuts [The Associated Press]

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