Finding your stolen cargo and other transportation uses for social media sleuthing

Social networks can be treasure trove of information for carriers and shippers, helping them identify risky areas for goods movement, to finding employees who are putting the company at risk, and even finding stolen cargo. ( Photo: Shuttertstock )

You can find anything online, including your missing cargo, it turns out. That was the big takeaway Cynthia Hetherington, president of the Hetherington Group, gave the audience during a lunchtime keynote address at the 44th annual Transportation & Logistics Council meeting on Tuesday in Charleston, SC.

The Hetherington Group is a consulting, publishing, and training firm focusing on intelligence, security, and investigations. It offers training in open source and online intelligence and advanced practices for conducting research to corporate security officials, military intelligence units, and federal, state, and local law enforcement.

Its president provided a look at how anything – and anyone – can be searched on the Internet and through social media channels specifically, giving the brokers, carriers and shippers in the room a headstart on how to proactively locate potentially dangerous drivers, identify situations that may affect their operations, and even locate stolen cargo and equipment.

“You have questions that come up every day and you go to Google, and it’s a good place to start,” Hetherington told the audience. “It’s great for finding content; it’s great for looking for websites; but it doesn’t search social media [posts].”

As an example, Hetherington suggested a carrier may want to know if a driver is using drugs while on the road or engaging in other illegal or dangerous behaviors. Using tools that search public social media accounts, a carrier can identify posts that may confirm an issue. She noted how often someone will post information on their social media accounts, such as being high after taking drugs, or posting videos of their locations.

In the case of a driver, that could also be giving away critical information regarding a high-value load. Hetherington suggested that some drivers won’t even do this on purpose, but they may post an innocent status update that indicates they are hauling something of value and giving away their location. Suddenly, that load is at risk.

Cargo thieves are also adept at searching social sites, and one of their primary tools for moving stolen cargo is the dark web, Hetherington said. However, fleets don’t need to be trolling the dark web for their stolen cargo as most of it appears on legitimate websites such as eBay, Amazon, Craigslist and OODLE. Some of it will eventually move to the dark web, which is unorganized and a hotbed for illegal activity, but the dark web is a more likely location for someone tipping off thieves to a load worth stealing.

 “All the things that end up on the dark web start on Reddit,” Hetherington pointed out.

Hetherington provided an example of how social search can help recover stolen assets, and how patience can pay off. She had a client that had a million-dollar load of industrial air conditioners disappear. Law enforcement was interested in capturing the thieves, and they did eventually locate the truck, but no air conditioners. With model numbers in hand, Hetherington used some of the tools the company deploys to set up an alert on auction sites for air conditioners matching those model numbers. Three months later, some were found for sale on a website.

“The air conditioners didn’t just drive off the facility themselves, [we found out] the driver was related to a guy at the campus and he was part of a gang that was [stealing goods],” she said, noting that the driver had passed a background check for employment. “If you pay $25 for a background check, that is not a background check, that is a compliance check.”

Hetherington offered up two sites that search auction sites where stolen cargo often end up, and SearchTempest. SearchTempest conducts keyword searches on Ebay, Amazon, Craigslist and OODLE. will search over 60 additional auction sites, again based on filters such as keyword.

Most carriers don’t have the resources the Hetherington Group has, and neither do most law enforcement agencies, the president said. Still, there are both free and fee-based tools carriers and shippers can use to check on employees and possible disruptions to their business.

For instance, the package bombings in Texas could be impacting a shipper’s or carrier’s operations. However, information being released is limited for investigative reasons. To understand what the impact could be to your operation, free or fee-based tools will search social media sites for keywords, sending back unfiltered mentions of any tweet or posting including your keywords. This information can be useful in determining if there may be any impact to operations.

This same type of step can be used to check on potential employees or current employees if you have concerns. Taking the earlier example, if there is worry that a driver may be abusing drugs, searches of social media sites might turn up evidence of that behavior.

Hetherington noted that sites such as Socialmention, Biznar, Search Tempest, and as well as Tagboard are all free sites that search social media channels for information. A paid site she recommended was Navigator Liferaft, although there are others.

When searching for people, Hetherington offered some additional tips, including the fact that people tend to use their real name on LinkedIn but turn to nicknames on other social sites. So, a guy named Richard will use that name on LinkedIn, but his other accounts may be Rich or Richie or Dick.

To make searching for people easier, Hetherington suggested using or, both of which will search social media accounts in one swoop.

“All these tools, some fee-based, will get the job done fast,” she said. “Enough of the free sites will get you answers quickly.”

Usage of these tools can help carriers identify potentially bad employees before they ever start by turning up background information that doesn’t appear on a traditional background check. They can also be helpful in many other instances where the collection of social media information is needed. Hetherington does advise that not everything is on social media accounts, so don’t forget to do due diligence on other sites and documents.

But, the ability to navigate and locate information on social media networks could save you from a catastrophic claim due to a bad employee or recover that high-value load that was stolen. Making the few minutes to use the tools well worth their time.

Stay up-to-date with the latest commentary and insights on FreightTech and the impact to the markets by subscribing.

Show More