What's Driving the Surge in Cargo Theft?

Published on
January 26, 2023 at 1:11:00 PM PST January 26, 2023 at 1:11:00 PM PSTth, January 26, 2023 at 1:11:00 PM PST

Cargo theft bounced from “High” to “Extreme” on CargoNet’s Cargo Theft Threat Level indicator at the end of 2022. So far in 2023 it has stayed in the “High” or “Extreme” category. What’s driving the surge in cargo theft?

Holidays: The end of year holidays are traditionally a time cargo thieves strike. More freight tends to be moving and in-demand gifts are targeted. Trucks are often left unattended during the holiday season and warehouses/distribution centers are closed or running on shortened hours, allowing thieves additional time to steal or pilferage.

Scarcity and Cost Driving Illicit Market Demand: Many consumer items have become hard to get or their cost has risen substantially due to inflation. Cargo thieves target these types of items knowing there is a market for a quick sale after the theft has occurred. Currently we are seeing this happen to higher cost food items such as meat as well as electronics including computer graphics cards.

Fleets and Drivers Without a Plan: Benjamin Franklin's quote: “By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail” is accurate in the security industry. Those without a layered security plan in place to prevent theft may find themselves scrambling after an event occurs. Plan ahead by making sure parking for trips is secured and layers of security are in place to protect the equipment and load.

Theft Activity at Major Intermodal Hubs: According to CargoNet’s 2022 Supply Chain Risk Trends Analysis, “California remained the top state for reported events in 2022 and theft in the state increased 41% year-over-year. Computer and green energy components were some of the most frequently stolen items of the year and California is a major logistics hub for these items. Theft in Georgia increased by 34% year-over-year, due in part to organized crime groups that took advantage of increased traffic to the Port of Savannah.”

Shrinkage in Cargo Theft Task Forces: Many states have reduced or shut down their task force focused on cargo theft. Those that have remained now have fewer resources leading to less manpower to investigate theft and organized crime groups.

Fictitious Cargo Pickups: Fictitious pickups are a highly specialized, internet-based form of cargo theft that requires skill in document forgery. The fraud occurs when a thief subcontracts the shipment to a legitimate motor carrier and then has the shipment misdirected to another address. According to CargoNet’s 2022 Supply Chain Risk Trends Analysis, “CargoNet recorded 96 more fictitious pickups in 2022 compared to the year prior, a 600% increase year-over-year.“

What can fleets do to protect cargo and equipment?

Utilize Heavy Duty Physical Security: Depending on the type of semi-trailer you or your fleet own, there are various security devices to prevent theft and pilferage. ENFORCER products include ABLOY® heavy duty padlocks and security devices that incorporate ABLOY lock cylinders or padlocks. ABLOY locks function reliably in extreme environments and allow for various master keying systems.

Multiple locks should be used to secure cargo and equipment. To prevent break-ins and pilferages of swing door trailers seek a robust lock such as the ENFORCER Adjustable Lock or hasp and padlock assembly. If you have a roll up door trailer several options are available including the CargoGuard which completely covers and protects the handle and padlock assembly from pry bar or cutting tools. To prevent unauthorized hook up to dropped trailers, consider a king pin lock. To secure an unattended truck, utilize an easy to install Air Cuff Lock.

Install Warehouse/Distribution Center Security: According to CargoNet’s 2022 Supply Chain Risk Trends Analysis, the top targeted location for theft was Warehouse/Distribution Centers. Install a full-perimeter fence around your location to protect any equipment or goods that are stored outdoors. Electric fences are a good deterrent to stop theft and should be considered. Add surveillance cameras as an additional layer. 

Implement Driver Education: Theft can be reduced by educating drivers on current theft statistics and trends. Providing drivers with information on where theft is occurring and safe parking locations is becoming increasingly important. Consider joining industry organizations that provide details on where and how thefts are occurring. In addition, educate your drivers to not discuss the load they are hauling or other route information at truck stops, etc. Additionally, drivers should remain in contact with dispatch if they are stopped somewhere with an increased likelihood of cargo theft.

Mitigate Fictitious Cargo Pickups: According to CargoNet, “Logistics brokers and shippers can help prevent fictitious cargo pickups by verifying any bids on shipments with the motor carrier through their contact information on file with the FMCSA and verifying the name of the motor carrier and driver matches who the shipment was tendered to. Motor carriers should be wary of new customers that offer payment through peer-to-peer money transfer apps if their business would haul a blind shipment delivering to an address different from the bill of lading, especially if the address is a public warehouse or cross-dock in California.”

Indications are cargo theft will remain elevated in 2023. Be proactive in protecting your equipment and cargo.