Thieves Strike a Lucrative New Target in California

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They are valuable, easy to steal, hard to trace and disappearing by the truckload, creating a huge headache for law enforcement and growers.

Drugs, art, wallets, electronics … Stealing those things is so passé. Thieves in California have been targeting a new kind of loot: nuts, by the truckload.

CNN reports more than 600,000 truckloads of the cash crops were stolen last year. Most of the thefts involve scams and fraud. Thieves exploit a weakness in the complex distribution system that allows them to simply stroll in with fake papers and drive off with a truck full of high-value nuts, including almonds and pistachios.

They’re virtually impossible to track, and sometimes the thefts can go unnoticed for as long as six days. By then the goods have likely been sold off, maybe even shipped to another continent. In California, since the crime doesn’t involve violence, it’s considered a misdemeanor. Put all that together, and the risk is fairly low for a rather high reward.

Nut thefts started to surge in mid-2015, when the typical heist went from being measured in buckets-full to truckloads worth millions of dollars. According to a report by Quartz:

Food and beverages have replaced electronics as the most-stolen good in the U.S. Criminals are concentrating their efforts on fewer heists of larger value, and as stolen goods go, nuts have a lot of appeal. They’re expensive. They have a long shelf life. They have no serial numbers and can’t be electronically tagged or traced.

California produces the most tree nuts in the country ($9.4 billion worth in 2014) which helps explain why that state is a primary target, though insurance industry officials report seeing similar thefts in Arizona and Georgia.

Thoughts on the nut thefts? Let us know in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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