Owner-operators Toni and Chris Murphy of New Egypt, New Jersey, said it’s been hard to fight back against an invisible tech-savvy fraudster who stole their trucking company’s identity, posted loads using their Department of Transportation number, collected payment for those loads, then disappeared, leaving the Murphys to deal with the fallout.

The couple own Murphy’s Trucking and got their operating authority in March 2021.

“It might sound strange but I’m grateful to the driver who reported us to a site that tracks fraudulent activity, posting that our company was not legitimate, and he hadn’t been paid for three loads he hauled for our company,” Toni Murphy told FreightWaves. “He was so kind after I explained someone was masquerading as our company. I hope we caught it quickly because no one else has reported us.”

How it happened 

This past spring, Murphy updated the company’s Motor Carrier Identification Report (MCS-150) online using her PIN provided by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s SAFER site. FMCSA requires carriers to update their information every two years with the trucking companies’ mileage and add or subtract the number of trucks and trailers running under their operating authority.

While the Murphys accessed SAFER online, FMCSA also allows motor carriers to submit their updates by mail or fax.

It’s unclear exactly how the scammer was able to alter the Murphys’ data in SAFER in May. After speaking with a DOT official, Toni claims the person sent in a request to the DOT for a new PIN, then faxed in the fake paperwork, which was manually entered by an FMCSA employee into the database. 

However, there’s no visible paper trail for investigators to follow to pinpoint exactly how this occurred.

“After this happened, I check SAFER every week to make sure our information hasn’t been changed,” Murphy said. “I never did this before but now I don’t trust anybody.”

The Murphys aren’t alone as thousands of carriers have fallen victim to fraudulent schemes over the past few years.

Starting in July, FMCSA began requiring carriers that submit their MCS-150s via paper applications to the agency’s Contact Center to include a copy of their commercial driver’s licenses to verify their identities, referring to it as a temporary adjustment.

However, scammers have caught wind of this temporary adjustment implemented by the FMCSA. According to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a trade association representing small-business truckers, some motor carriers have called stating that brokers from load boards are asking for a copy of their CDLs before accepting loads. 

FMCSA spokesperson Cicely L. Waters said the agency has heard from stakeholders across the trucking industry about concerns related to “an uptick in fraud including broker fraud,” adding that fraud prevention is a “key part of current discussions and plans for the next iteration of our registration system.”

“The new registration system will have effective, compliant and automated identity verification and validation processes with fraud prevention at the forefront. We are also implementing measures now to address the various types of fraud occurring in the industry,” Waters wrote in a statement to FreightWaves.

Load boards take steps to address fraud

Two of the largest load board operators are taking steps to address freight fraud, including double brokering, and weed out the bad actors on their platforms.

Oregon-based DAT Freight & Analytics, one of the trucking industry’s largest load boards in North America, said it has prevented 2,400 accounts from being able to join the DAT One network in 2023. According to the DAT website, it removed more than 3,000 accounts from its platform in 2022. 

In May, another large load board, Truckstop, introduced a weekly series titled “Fraud Prevention Friday” to address fraudulent practices in the industry.

The Murphys rarely use load boards to find freight and typically use the same broker to haul freight for the same customers. 

“Sometimes we would use the boards to find a filler load here and there, but we couldn’t have survived having our identity stolen without our loyal customers, who know us and understand that someone was posing as us,” Toni Murphy said.

The aftermath

Toni Murphy has spent countless hours on the phone, contacting FMCSA, the brokers she works with, her customers and her insurance company. She also filed a police report in her town about what happened to her company.

“I probably would not have paid attention to checking SAFER every week but once bitten, twice shy and I am not going to become a victim again,” Murphy said. “And I don’t want to be that person who was reporting me either. I don’t want to pull a load for somebody who’s never gonna pay me.”

Some of the immediate steps Waters said have been taken to prevent fraud include:

FMCSA has taken measures to validate the information received via paper applications submitted to the Contact Center by requiring a copy of the driver’s license to verify identity.

FMCSA has temporarily disabled the ability to obtain a USDOT PIN online. This helps prevent unauthorized access to customer accounts.

FMCSA is taking steps to verify a customer’s principal place of business (PPOB) is in fact a physical address recognized by the U.S. Postal Service. This PPOB requirement will apply to all applicants.

FMCSA published guidance on the definition of a broker and dispatch services in November 2022 and again in June, as required by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the 2023 Appropriations Act.

FMCSA will refer broker-related cases to the Office of Inspector General and the Department of Justice, if appropriate.

FMCSA is focusing additional resources on detecting, preventing and stopping unlawful brokerage.

FMCSA is working on several initiatives surrounding illegal/unlawful brokerage. This includes a combination of enforcement, research and outreach activities.

FMCSA is also working to educate both consumers and industry partners on brokerage actions that are compliant with federal regulations and how to identify entities that are operating in violation of federal law.

FMCSA improved public messaging on the registration and customer service websites informing the public of the reasons for the various changes and encouraging customers to report fraud and identity theft cases to the Federal Trade Commission. 

Do you have a news tip to share? Send me an email or message me @cage_writer on Twitter. Your name will not be used without your permission.

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