Safeguarding cargo has been a challenge since the earliest days of commercial trucking. The old gangster movies had their share of thefts at gunpoint. That type of theft is among the rarest today. More sophisticated and aggressive crime rings are changing the game.
As shipments have become more valuable and shortages more prevalent, securing your cargo is a new top priority for truckers and trucking firms. While it is common to issue special theft alerts during the holidays, those alerts are now going out for the busy summer months.
New Approaches and New Aggressiveness
The one key element noticed by commercial crime and theft specialists in the trucking industry is that of organization. Drivers are often alert to crimes of opportunity or being caught in a one-off robbery. Many of the basic safety procedures, such as ensuring a truck is parked in a lighted secure area when in transit and keeping a vigilant eye for suspicious vehicles still apply.
However, according to Zak Bowyer of Total Quality Logistics, “We’ve seen an increase in what we would call organized cargo rings. These are the groups of people that will case a shipping location; they will watch trucks go in and out for days, they will pick their targets, and then they will tail those trucks.”
While there was a brief respite during the pandemic lockdowns, the trends now place the levels of theft back to pre-pandemic rates. Moreover, the careful targeting of high-value loads has moved the average cost of each theft to unprecedented levels. For example, Scott Cornell, of Travelers Insurance, notes “…the average value of loads stolen was about $106,000 in 2020, about $138,000 in 2021 and about $232,000 so far in 2022.”
This trend is attributed to several factors. First, the organized rings are targeting more valuable cargo based on improved planning and information. Secondly, the thefts are increasingly full truckloads of prime cargo rather than pilferage of partial loads. The level of sophistication of these thefts is also increasingly of concern.
Today’s cargo thieves are using a combination of schemes that include fictitious pickups, identity theft, and double brokering. This allows the thieves to steal directly from shippers and either disappear or resale the shipment to another party.
Fortunately, some of the same technology and tactics that are now aiding the criminal are also helping to prevent those thefts and to recover the property taken. It was reported in Transport Topics that Overhaul used its heightened focus to recover five shipments worth more than $2.1 million in just one 10-day span. The same crime ring was behind those and other thefts. These were part of a new focus on what is classified as “strategic thefts” by the industry.
From auto parts to semiconductor chips to computers and high-end consumer goods, the criminal rings are working to maximize their return from each theft carried out. This advanced planning involves stolen CDLs, fraudulent shell trucking firms, and intimate knowledge of the logistics chain. Thieves who have been caught point to paying for inside information and participants working in distribution sites, warehouses, and shipping companies.
The post-theft actions of the thieves have also been morphing, as some actually offload the items into a new trailer and then either abandon or destroy the stolen rig. Currently, the five states reporting the greatest threats to shipping include:
Hanover has joined with other risk mitigation and insurance firms to remind them how to implement basic and enhanced safety procedures to minimize losses. These include:
- Doublecheck all shipper and broker credentials
- Use same-day delivery for high-value short-haul shipments
- Use embedded trackers and detection devices on multiple pallets of a shipment
- Follow the “Red Zone” policy of not stopping within 250 miles of pickup or delivery
- Take added precautions at major truck stops as organized gangs are now centered on these
While vigilance is always an essential part of safety and security, taking proactive steps will make any theft more difficult and recovery more possible.
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