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Shipping Thefts Kept Secret

March 24, 2000

ATLANTA (AP) _ The disappearance of 55 Oscar statuettes from a shipping company last week show that almost any package is vulnerable to being stolen.

``There’s probably a hundred different ways to steal stuff,″ said Mason Kauffman, a former FedEx employee who now owns an on-line shipping service, Accuship.com.

While billions of packages make it to their destinations without incident, shipping companies do lose millions of dollars in packages to employee theft. But few companies are willing to reveal how widespread the problem is.

Norman Black, spokesman for Atlanta-based UPS, said only a small percentage of that company’s employees steal merchandise.

``We run a very large network with literally 340,000 employees, so we are a reflection of society,″ Black said. ``It’s going to happen occasionally, but we have systems and procedures in place to prevent it.″

FedEx spokeswoman Carla Boyd responded to a reporter’s query by saying, ``numbers like that we don’t release.″

But Kauffman said FedEx knows exactly how many packages disappear every year. During his 17 years at FedEx, the company based in Memphis, Tenn., kept precise statistics on its ``loss ratio,″ but never revealed the number to anyone outside the company.

Only the U.S. Postal Service had no problem releasing its theft numbers _ partly because officials are proud of its prevention and enforcement efforts.

Postal inspector Robert Bethel said about 500 employees were arrested for mail theft in fiscal year 1999 _ that’s less than a tenth of 1 percent of its 800,000 employees.

``It’s such a taboo to fool with the mail,″ Bethel said. ``Many of our tips come from postal employees because they take this commitment so seriously.″

Veteran Roadway Express driver Lawrence Edward Ledent of Los Angeles was charged with stealing the Oscars, which were later recovered from a trash bin. He has pleaded innocent to a single count of grand theft.

Company officials charge that Ledent stole the shipment the same day it arrived in a warehouse in Bell, Calif. Prosecutors declined to charge a second Roadway employee pending further investigation.

Police haven’t given out any details of how the Oscars were taken.

Kauffman said employees sometimes simply take the goods out of a package and ship an empty box, Kauffman said. Shipping dock workers, many of whom are not highly paid, can put a new address label on a package and mail it to their own address or a friend’s. The box disappears from the company’s system, and there are few ways of tracking it, Kauffman said.

Four United Parcel Service employees were arrested in 1997 for running a similar scheme in San Francisco. Police said they stole guns, computers, cameras and stereo equipment by pasting fake address labels on the shipments.

Shippers were reluctant to discuss what kind of measures they take to try to prevent theft, saying they want to be sure their security systems remain effective.

Kauffman said the best way to stop internal theft is to use computer tracking systems. By scanning a barcode at each step on the way, he said, shipping companies can know where a package was last seen if it goes missing.

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