Cargo theft is becoming a pretty serious issue with the trucking and transportation industry, as of late. The number of cases for cargo theft continues to rise at an alarming rate, with trucking-related cases facing a troubling substantial increase. These crimes range from simple robberies at normal stops to intricate organized operations such as the recent bust of a California cargo theft ring responsible for roughly $150 million in stolen merchandise.
With cases continuing to surge, it's crucial to know about cargo theft and what it looks like. Now more than ever, fleet owners and trucking managers are fortifying their businesses from these attacks by safeguarding their drivers and freight, reducing the opportunities for these criminals to intervene. We explain this concept further below and provide ways that both truck drivers and businesses can use to thwart any attempts of cargo theft from happening to them.
What is Cargo Theft?
Cargo theft is the unlawful act of stealing freight during its transportation from one location to another. Perpetrators come up with different schemes to target various types of cargo, including electronics, pharmaceuticals, food and beverages, clothing, and more. These schemes range from straightforward to strategic and occur anywhere from truck stops and parking lots, to warehouses and drop-off points.
Over the years, cargo theft has become much more complex thanks to the use of technology and implementing cyber-attacks. Thieves are now able to infiltrate company systems, gaining access to sensitive logistics data such as delivery information. This information is used to organize double brokering scams and establish fictitious pickups posing as fraudulent carriers. These layered attacks create more confusion for the truck drivers and companies who effectively suffer from freight losses and expenses.
Cargo Theft Statistics
According to CargoNet, a Verisk company responsible for collecting data and coming up with solutions to cargo theft, there were 1,778 incidents reported in 2022, with California, Texas, and Florida as the states with the highest numbers of cargo theft, representing 46% of the year's total incidents. This is a 20% increase from last year, with total loss value estimated to be around $223 million.
For trucking in particular, there was a 600% increase in fictitious pickups from the previous year. This type of crime continues to spread across the country threatening most categories of goods shipped.
Major reasons for the sharp increase in cargo theft include supply chain disruptions reverberating from the previous year, as well as increasing inflation affecting costs of goods.
Graphic from CargoNet.
Who Are Most At Risk of Cargo Theft?
To be clear, no carrier is 100% safe from cargo theft. However, below shows the top places that have a higher likelihood of dealing with this crime:
Food and Beverage Companies: Food and Beverage cargo haulers are seeing a surge among theft cases in 2023. These attacks can be attributed to the higher prices of basic food commodities coming off of a year of inflated prices overall.
Household Items: 2022 also saw household items such as appliances and furniture as the most stolen commodity. These items were generally stolen from long-haul or final stop carriers using pilfering tactics to go unnoticed.
Electronics: Theft of computer electronics was the second-highest category of stolen goods. While this is lower than previous years, which saw higher rates of electronic cargo theft, it remains relatively high for the category. California saw computer and green energy components as the most frequently stolen items from 2022.
Intermodal Hubs: Areas where products move from truck to train or from boat to truck saw the most significant increase in cargo theft activity. Places along the coasts like Los Angeles, Savannah, New Jersey, and Florida saw the highest activity for marine freight theft. Inland hubs with heavy train presences such as Chicago, Memphis, and even Dallas/Fort Worth saw a hike in theft activity.
Image from CNBC.
5 Ways to Steer Clear of Cargo Theft
The increasing presence of cargo theft across the country is keeping everyone in the trucking industry on their toes. Truckers need to be aware of what is happening at all times in order to keep themselves, their cargo, their truck, and any sensitive data safe and secure from thieves. Below are five ways that truckers can steer clear of cargo theft.
1. Increase Digital Security
First, start by enhancing your company's cybersecurity. This is the first and biggest line of defense your company has against cargo thieves. Invest in programs that protect sensitive data from possible exposure and install security measures on all technology hardware. Using visibility technology like GPS trackers to track cargo in real time allows for companies and truckers to keep a watchful eye on their transported goods as they reach their destinations. These GPS programs should also be secured to prevent coordinates from being scrambled by cybercriminals.
You should also consider being transparent about your security measures. Being open about this sends a message to employees and cargo thieves that loads are constantly monitored. This helps to reduce any threat of internal and external cargo theft.
2. Verify Bids on Shipments
Another step is to verify any bids on shipments with motor carriers. By corroborating the information you have with registries of legitimate carrier organizations like FMCSA, you prevent fictitious cargo pickups from luring your drivers. Make sure to check the name of the motor carrier company and list of drivers, and that they match to their shipments.
You should also be wary about new customers and bids unfamiliar to your company. Cargo thieves tend to disguise themselves as new customers offering different and enticing ways of payment or shipment. Always vet your customers and complete comprehensive customer information profiles over all types of customers.
Lastly, do not fall victim to late-day brokerages, or other types of brokerages that are out of the ordinary. Cargo theft occurs the most on Friday afternoons when time constraints and deadlines push companies to complete bids without doing the proper due diligence. Bids that seem out of the ordinary are means for cargo thieves to obtain company information that they tend to use against you later on. If the bids seem fishy, then be cautious about taking the bait.
3. Increase Physical Security
Warehouses were the number one locations for cargo theft in 2022. Carriers need to increase their physical security of warehouses and manufacturing plants. With more numbers in the picture, your company will likely see a decrease in cargo theft risk - especially for any risk involved with internal thieves.
Truck drivers should add physical security devices to their trucks. Some of these devices include locks for the rear door, landing gear locks, and any cameras necessary. The added security decreases the chances of cargo theft from occurring to your carrier when parked or when the driver walks away for a moment's notice.
4. Implement Red Zones
Carriers need to establish red zones, or areas truck drivers need to avoid while transporting goods. Cargo thieves thrive where areas are typically unpopulated, hidden, or have low visibility to public areas. Companies need to research ahead of time any places that their truckers will stop or pass through and determine if these are safe areas to do so. If any area sees high rates of cargo theft, then carriers need to re-coordinate their routes for delivery.
5. Stay Vigilant
Lastly, truckers need to stay alert for any suspicious activity when transporting goods from Point A to Point B. They should also make sure their cargo remains secured at all times, either locked away or with the proper tie down equipment, to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
If you plan on traveling during the holidays, then make sure to stay even more alert, as cities tend to see a spike in cargo theft during the holidays. Particularly, Fourth of July weekend is when cargo theft is at its peak followed by Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving.