Businesses warned of rise in cargo trackers as drug smugglers look for new modes of entry

Businesses have been warned that organised criminal gangs are using Bluetooth devices to track valuable cargoes including the movement of cocaine across the world hidden in containers.

European police organisations Europol has issued warnings to both countries within the European Union and businesses  as concerns are growing over the rising use of the trackers.

Europol stated: “For the past several years, Europol has been observing a growing crime phenomenon: the use of Bluetooth trackers in organised crime.

“Bluetooth trackers are small devices designed to help people find personal objects, such as keys and bags, as well as vehicles at risk of theft. They can be attached to an item one does not want to lose, and wirelessly connected to the owner’s mobile phone or tablet.

“Criminals have always been quick to adopt new and emerging technologies, misusing them to further their criminal goals. It is no different with Bluetooth trackers: Europol is now seeing criminals increasingly using these devices to geolocate illicit commodities.”

It added the vast majority of cases reported to Europol relate to cocaine smuggling. These trackers have been discovered most frequently alongside cocaine in container shipment of food products but have also been found hidden in sea chests within sea vessels.

“Based on the technological capabilities of Bluetooth trackers, and the information shared with Europol, it is confirmed that drug traffickers use them to track the transit of illicit cargo,” it explained. “Through the trackers, cargo can be traced after arrival in ports, and onward by road towards storage locations in European markets. They are likely also used to locate illicit shipments upon arrival in ports.”

The public warning issued this week explained: “A key feature of these trackers is that they support crowdsourced locating: their Bluetooth signal can be detected by nearby mobile devices that are also connected to a tracker from the same manufacturer.

“These nearby devices send the location of the tracker to the owner’s mobile application. Bluetooth trackers can therefore be geolocated even when far removed from their owner, as long as owners of the same type of tracker are in the tracker’s vicinity.”

It continued: “In a select few cases known to Europol, trackers have been used to locate vehicles targeted in organised property crime and vessels used in migrant smuggling. Although Bluetooth trackers have been used to track shipments of other illicit narcotics, the vast majority of cases relate to cocaine smuggling.

“These trackers have been used to locate cargo, often over 100 kg. These shipments originate in South America and are bound for ports and markets throughout the EU.”

Europol said cocaine seizures including such trackers have also taken place at commercial premises in Europe.

“Based on the technological capabilities of Bluetooth trackers and the information shared with Europol, it is confirmed that drugs traffickers use them to track the transit of illicit cargo after arrival in ports and onward by road towards storage locations in European markets.

“They are probably also used for locating illicit shipments upon arrival in port. So far, there are no indications that Bluetooth trackers are used to geolocate shipments at sea as, given the present technological limits, it is improbable that a tracker would come within range of a mobile device paired with the same type of tracker.”

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