How to Avoid “Chameleon” Carriers and Other Scammers

Nationwide transportation laws and $109 billion in Federal highway and infrastructure funds were included in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act. Michele Greene blogged here about the 599-page bill, which features about 150 pages of trucking-related regulations. Many of the laws have earned strong reactions, both positive and negative, from freight brokers and carriers.

Unified Registration and Transparency

There is one aspect of MAP-21 that everyone supports: the laws that strengthen DOT’s ability to detect and prevent fraud, enabling the Department to close down the bad actors. DOT is tasked with establishing a unified registration system for carriers, brokers and freight forwarders. A company that performs more than one of those functions – an asset-based broker, for example – must register with separate authority for each function. Transportation companies of each type must also disclose their family ties with owners or managers of other transportation companies. So if your brother-in law owns a trucking company and you are a freight broker, you’d better ‘fess up to the Feds.

Enforcement Has Gaps

When will the unified registration come online? The law is unclear on that point, but past history tells us that it takes a while for the government to complete a big software project. Let’s be optimistic. Say it gets done in the first quarter of 2014. For the next 18 months, DOT enforcement will continue at current levels. FMCSA safety records for drivers and carriers are stored in a completely different system from the registration and insurance records for carriers, brokers and freight forwarders. That means a trucking company owner whose fleet is put out of service by the FMCSA can register a new company, get new authority, and operate the same trucks from the same address, without attracting the attention of the FMCSA. It happens. A March 2012 study by the Government Accountability Office found more than 1,100 new motor carrier applicants with “chameleon” attributes in 2010.

FMCSA Busts Crooked Brothers

Here is a recent example from Alabama. Two trucking companies were shut down by FMCSA in May for safety violations. Both companies had the same owners – two brothers, one with a history of other illegal business operations – and both companies were registered at the same address. While the investigation was underway, and before the two trucking companies were placed out of service, the same brothers opened a third company with some of the same trucks and drivers, the same insurance agent, the same business address, serving the same customers as the two suspect companies. Three months passed before DOT and FMCSA found the third “reincarnated” company and shut it down, too.
The whole story was published in The Trucker, and it would be a great whodunit, if it weren’t so scary. In the absence of fully effective enforcement, how do you avoid doing business with criminals like these?

Don’t Wait to Protect Your Business

You’re in luck. We built a special Alias Search feature into DAT CarrierWatch, alerting you to carriers with duplicate phone numbers or addresses while you’re checking their current insurance coverage details, DOT registration and CSA safety scores. CarrierWatch is your one-stop shop for carrier qualification, so you can load new carriers with confidence and monitor any changes in the credentials of carriers you use regularly. CarrierWatch is included in many of our DAT Load Board products. You may already have it on your desktop. Call customer service at 800-551-8847 to learn more about CarrierWatch.