With $15-30 Billion in annual cargo theft in the United States, cargo crime is a serious problem for business and law enforcement. The loss of just one full truck load can cost a company anywhere from $12,000 to $5 Million. The seriousness of this problem for commerce in the United States has prompted the FBI to form cargo theft task forces in major cities including Memphis, Houston, Newark, New York, San Juan, and Miami. Unit Chief Eric B. Ives, who heads the Major Theft Unit in the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, says “Cargo theft is our number-one priority in Major Theft.”
How Cargo Thieves Operate
Cargo thieves in the United States typically target “over-the-road” trailers with high-value freight, monitoring truck stops, freight yards, and other areas where tractor-trailers frequently are left unattended. Thieves will identify a truck carrying millions of dollars worth of inventory, follow it to a truck stop, seize it and drive away. Visible GPS antennas on trailers or tractors are quickly and easily discarded, rendering this protection measure useless.
Stolen trailers either are emptied quickly of freight, or are parked and placed under counter-surveillance to watch for police response to a tracking signal. Once the thieves are assured the tractor-trailer is not equipped with a hidden tracking device, the vehicle is moved to a designated area nearby. One common technique is for thieves to move the stolen freight into a “clean” trailer as soon as possible via a back-to-back transfer. This operation has been completed for a full 53-foot load of consumer electronics in as little as 30 minutes. Other techniques include driving the entire stolen rig to a final destination (often painting over or peeling off company identification) and using a satellite warehouse in the vicinity of the theft location for storage of stolen property.
Why Covert Cargo Tracking Defeats Criminals
Given that cargo thieves know how to disable GPS antennas on trailers and tractors, and are capable of transferring stolen cargo so quickly to “clean” trailers, manufacturers must turn to other solutions to protect their cargo from theft. A highly effective solution is covert cargo tracking. Covert cargo trackers are small battery-powered devices that use assisted GPS to transmit location data. These trackers are so small that they can be completely concealed from criminal eyes. Assisted GPS technology ensures that the covert trackers can accurately transmit location information, even though they do not have view of the open sky. Even if cargo thieves transfer the load to a different trailer, they will still be caught because the trackers reveal the location of the actual cargo they are stealing.
Real-Life Recoveries Using Covert Cargo Tracking
During a 60-day period in 2006, three separate full truck loads (FTLs)—carrying a combined cargo wholesale value of nearly $5 Million—were stolen and recovered in less than two hours each incident. Covert cargo tracking with FSNtracks led law enforcement directly to the stolen loads where criminals were apprehended and cargo was recovered. Cargo was recovered so quickly, in fact, that each of these deliveries was still made on time.
- Incident #1--A high-value load worth $1.5 Million wholesale was stolen at a truck stop along Interstate 95 in Kingsland, Georgia while the driver was taking a late-night break. Within minutes of the rig’s driver reporting the theft, the cargo’s shipper and FreightWatch began monitoring the current location and direction of the stolen load using The ENFORCER® Trax200 & FSNtracks. While the cargo thieves were switching the trailer to a different tractor in a remote area along I-95, FreightWatch’s law enforcement liaison alerted the Florida State Highway Patrol and St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. Using the covert cargo trackers and FSNtracks, FreightWatch kept local and regional law enforcement agencies apprised of the cargo’s location—significantly narrowing the search area and making it much faster for law officers to find the perpetrators and recover the stolen cargo. The stolen cargo was recovered in just 90 minutes. It was delivered to its intended destination on schedule.
- Incident #2--A high-value load worth $1.7 Million wholesale departed an east coast distribution facility in the early evening. After approximately 3 hours on the road, the driver stopped to eat at a truck stop in Spartanburg, South Carolina, leaving the load unattended. A short time later, the driver discovered his tractor and trailer had been stolen, and alerted the shipper. Within minutes FreightWatch personnel began tracking the stolen cargo using FSNtracks, and pinpointed its location at an intersection in Laurens County, South Carolina. Laurens County deputies rushed to the designated intersection but could not find the trailer. Using The ENFORCER® FSNtrack’s satellite view, FreightWatch was able to determine that the trailer was hidden behind a building at the intersection, and quickly redirected deputies to it. The entire stolen load was recovered in its original trailer, and it was delivered on time to the consignee. FSNtracks also was used to recover the abandoned tractor: a review of FSNtracks history indicated that the tractor had stopped for several minutes at a location a short distance from the truck stop. When law enforcement checked that location they found the abandoned tractor.
- Incident #3--A high-value load worth $1.7 Million wholesale departed an east coast distribution facility at midday. The trailer was taken to the trucking company’s local terminal for pickup by long-haul team drivers. Nearly five hours later, the long-haul drivers arrived at the local terminal to find that the trailer was missing. Within minutes the shipper and FreightWatch personnel were advised of the theft, and began tracking the stolen cargo using The ENFORCER® Trax 200 & FSNtracks. FSNtracks history indicated that the load had been stolen from the local terminal an hour after it arrived there, and was presently at a location in York, South Carolina. The York Police Department responded to the location and discovered the stolen trailer; the thieves had painted over the trucking company’s name and logos to disguise the trailer. Witnesses who observed the thieves painting the trailer directed police to a nearby tractor where they arrested two subjects hiding in the sleeper. Police also located the painting equipment in the tractor along with blank Bills of Lading and various seals. Due to the covert tracking of The ENFORCER® Trax 200 FSNtracks and quick law enforcement response, the entire stolen load was recovered and redirected to make an on-time delivery.