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Lost goods that ‘fall off the back of the truck’ are a multibillion-dollar problem in Canada, with economic impact estimates as high as $5-billion.The Canadian Press

Insurers and truckers are joining together to crack down on theft of trucking cargo, a problem estimated to cost the Canadian economy $5-billion a year.

They are launching a nationwide online reporting system to track goods that "fall off the back of the truck," a problem that is particularly acute in southern Ontario, Vancouver and Montreal, which are home to transportation hubs used to transport goods into the U.S. and abroad.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) and the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) are spearheading the new reporting system, which launched Tuesday. The two industry groups want to make it easy for trucking firms to file reports on incidents of cargo theft through online forms. Their goal is to build a centralized database that can be used by police in Canada and the U.S. to track missing merchandise.

Cargo theft "has always been considered a low-risk, high-reward crime," said Garry Robertson, national director of the IBC's investigative services unit. "And one of the things you see now is the number of goods being transported, and the value of goods being transported [have increased]."

About 90 per cent of consumer products and food are transported by truck, according to the CTA. The theft of goods in transit drives up costs for manufacturers, trucking companies and insurers, and the expense of replacing the stolen goods is inevitably passed on to consumers.

The proceeds from the sales of the stolen merchandise almost always fund more criminal activity, industry sources say, heightening the importance of the issue.

"Society can no longer view cargo crime as being victimless," says David Bradley, chief executive of the Canadian Trucking Alliance in a statement. "It is exacting a huge toll, running into billions of dollars, on the Canadian economy and threatens the security of all Canadians."

Some trucking companies have resisted reporting cargo theft because of the potential for damage to their brand or fears of higher insurance premiums. The new reporting system hopes to coax such companies into participating by offering them the option to submit reports anonymously.

One of the biggest problems that police face when they find stolen property is identifying where the goods have come from. This will become easier now that law enforcement agencies can tap into the searchable database of stolen goods through the IBC, Mr. Robertson said. "By working together we're going to be a lot more effective."

Four Ontario police service units have voiced their support for the program, which has been tested in Ontario and Quebec in recent years. Insurers, trucking groups and the police think expanding the reporting program nationwide will highlight patterns of theft throughout the country, showing companies how big their problem really is and helping to identify large criminal rings.

Moving quickly to spot theft is essential, because stolen goods are often shipped outside of Canada within hours. "These thefts are usually taking place pretty close to a major traffic artery so trucks can get back on the road and move the goods where they need to," Mr. Robertson said.

Clothing, personal care products and dry goods are common targets because they are difficult to track but easy to sell. Food can also be tempting to thieves in search of a quick buck. Mr. Robertson, who has been investigating cargo crime on and off since 1987, says criminals have seized loads of lobster or shrimp. A trailer of beef worth about $280,000 was stolen in Ancaster, Ont., last fall.

Until now it has been difficult to track where stolen goods are heading. Mr. Robertson gives the example of the $18-million of maple syrup that was stolen from a Quebec warehouse in 2012. Some of the syrup made its way to the northern U.S., some to the East Coast.

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