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Police in the Netherlands have arrested a gang of Romanian thieves suspected of stealing iPhones worth 500,000 euros ($590,000), with the gang said to have used a high-risk technique of breaking into the back door of delivery trucks while they were still in motion on a highway.
Five men were arrested at a holiday cottage in Ede, the Netherlands, which was used as a hideout to store the iPhones as well as a modified van thought to be used by the gang for the heists. According to De Telegraaf, the gang is thought to have been in operation since early 2015, and may have attacked 17 trucks and delivery vehicles in that time.
The technique required one gang member to drive the van behind the target vehicle, while another climbed through the sunroof and stood on the hood, fitted with an anti-slip mat. With a third holding them still, the member on the hood would break the rear doors of the truck, sometimes using tools like a grinding wheel to bypass locks, before entering the truck and passing boxes of merchandise back to members waiting on the van.
The following van would go undetected until it was too late for the truck driver to respond, as the van would be hidden in a blindspot right behind the truck. In some instances, robbers would use a second or third car, with one in front used to slow the truck down, and another to prevent the truck driver from changing lanes.
The heists typically took place at night, making it easier to hide the van and to avoid being spotted by other drivers. The gang also operated mainly on the Duiven-Eindhoven and Duiven-Waalwijk routes, roads usually taken by truck drivers, with the cottage hideout located a short distance away from the highways.
The technique, named the "Romanian Method," dates back to 2008, according to the Eindhovens Dagblad, with truck drivers in Germany initially not believed by security forces until surveillance discovered the theft claims were genuine. Since 2014, similar thefts have been reported in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, but it is unclear if it is one or multiple gangs performing such activities.
In May 2012, Romanian police released footage of one such attempt at breaking into the back of a truck, filmed from a police helicopter. The video shows the activity takes place at relatively high speeds, with a passenger clearly seen holding on to one member of the gang opening up the back of the truck, before returning back inside their vehicle.
Expensive handheld electronics, such as iPads and iPhones, are the biggest targets for such thefts, with gangs aiming to attack transport companies that deliver goods for electronics manufacturers. While police know little about how the gangs know which vehicles to aim for, it is speculated that members hang out in truck stops and listening in to conversations between drivers to discover their cargo.
The iPhones discovered in the hideout are believed to have been stolen during a heist on July 24, on the A73 highway. The five men, aged from 33 to 43, will go before a judge on Tuesday.