Thieves have a good eye for expensive, delicious contraband. It's a lot easier to steal food from a farm than, say, money from a bank, and the risk of violence is minimal. From oysters to Parmesan cheese to live bees, criminals certainly have discerning tastes for profitable food products.
Now, you can add California almonds and pistachios to that list. Every year, California's nut industry rakes in $9.3 billion in sales. And with the price and demand for nuts not getting any lower any time soon, the basic economic reality is that the humble nut is by no means immune from the type of food heists usually reserved to fancier foods.
In fact, according to a new report by CNN, criminals in the Golden State are stealing "millions of dollars in nut cargo." But unlike many of the aforementioned heists, nuts are not being stolen from low-security farms, but with phones and computers.
How, you ask? Well, it would appear that these wily food thieves are using laptops to change the contact information of legit trucking companies. When the "bad guy" delivery trucks arrive at the pick-up location, they take the loot, never to be seen again. By the time distributors realize they've been duped, the only contact info they have turns out to be bogus and the nuts are already on their way to black markets at home and overseas, often to unknowing businesses who pay the same price as they would from legitimate nut peddlers.
It might seem a little simplistic, but scams like this accounted for some 600,000 loads, or roughly 310 tons, of nuts stolen last year. Such heists are also becoming more prevalent, amounting to an estimated $4.6 million in 2015, according to the US Department of Justice. To put things in perspective, the Justice Department reported just one nut theft in 2009, and 32 in 2015.
This is presenting significant challenges for law enforcement, who often have to monitor by air to catch nut thieves. "Come walnut season, we do a lot of patrolling not only in air, but on the ground," Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux told CNN. "Our resources need to be focused on protecting those [people affected] ... at the end of the day, we've got to catch these guys."
The rise of nut theft has also been correlated with a rise in dad jokes, with CNN saying that these crimes make "appetizing targets" for thieves. But one thing is for sure; food theft is becoming an increasingly tough nut for law enforcement to crack.