Cargo theft has been around for as long as people transported goods. Iconic images of rogues waylaying merchants on the King’s Highway or Wild West stagecoach robbers are predecessors of today’s cargo thieves. Although books and movies may have glorified the practice, in reality, they are nothing more than common criminals.
Truck drivers would be wise to familiarize yourself with how often CDL professionals are targeted, methods used by thieves, and ways you can avoid getting robbed. Being aware of this information about cargo theft can help to keep our valued truckers safe on the open road.
Cargo Thieves Are Well Organized
According to law enforcement officials who track cargo theft rings, these criminal enterprises are far more organized and sophisticated than many would believe. It’s not uncommon for thieves to have worked in the trucking industry. Their intimate knowledge about the freight hauling process comes from experience working in warehouses, loading docks, shipping offices, and some may even be former truck drivers.
Often operating in small gangs, they spend time casing warehouses, freight companies, and see owner-operators as prime targets. Cargo rings typically invest their time surveilling unsuspecting truckers from pickup to delivery, noting favorite restaurants, rest areas, truck stops, drop lots, and motels. One of the reasons criminals prefer owner-operators is that they do not necessarily follow the security protocols mandated by employers. That can open the door to a driver dropping a trailer in what they perceive as a safe lot to run errands. When the trucker returns, either the trailer has been emptied or it's gone entirely.
It’s essential to remember that cargo thieves typically are not petty purse-snatchers. They are usually well organized, understand the freight hauling industry, and possess substantial resources to pull off heists worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. In many cases, cargo thieves are so well-informed about what goes into trailers that they already have buyers lined up before a trucker leaves the yard. It’s a frightening proposition to think that a hard-working truck driver has been targeted even before getting behind the wheel.
Methods Used To Steal Trucking Cargo
It should come as no surprise that insurance carriers have taken a significant interest in deterring cargo theft. After all, it’s not necessarily the trucking companies, truckers, or product-maker who foots the bill when a load goes missing. These are the five categories of cargo theft threats that Traveler’s Insurance outlines:
Threat of Straight Cargo Theft
This criminal scheme ranks among the least organized and usually does not involve a criminal network with ties inside the trucking industry. Straight cargo theft actually resembles petty purse snatching, just with a giant designer handbag. Often small groups of criminals lay in wait at truck stops, remote rest areas, drop lots, and retail stores that are closed. Although they are willing to swipe any random load, these rank among their high-value targets.
- Refrigerated boxes carrying pharmaceuticals
- Candy, cigarettes, and other desirable products
- High-end merchandise such as TVs, electronic devices, and apparel
Thieves frequently surveil areas that lack cameras, security officers, and are vacant during specific hours.
Threat of Strategic Cargo Theft
This type of cargo theft continues to evolve and thieves employ increasingly duplicitous methods. Strategies include leveraging deceptive information to scam trucking industry professionals into handing the load to a thief instead of a legitimate trucker. Commonly used forms of trickery include the following:
- Identity Theft
- Double-Brokering Schemes
- Phony Carriers
- Fictitious Load Pick-Ups
Strategic theft relies on unassuming freight industry workers believing that nothing out of the ordinary is occurring. The constant loading, unloading, and new truck drivers on any given day already create a sense of organized chaos. That’s why cargo theft scam artists plan heists at the busiest times of the day or when experienced crew members are off duty. Criminals may go as far as to post fake loads for bids to secure an outfit’s credentials such as EIN, social security, and other information to pose as a legitimate company.
Technology Used to Get Away with Cargo Theft
Cargo thieves are often more familiar with technology than trucking industry professionals realize. Like today’s growing hacker threat, this class of criminals typically uses devices called “sniffers” to identify GPS tracking. Once a cargo thief finds the GPS tracking device, a jammer is employed to block the signal and thwart law enforcement from finding the stolen goods.
Cyber-Attacks Used in Cargo Theft
The increased use of technology in the freight-hauling industry appears to have prompted roadside bandits to enlist hackers. An organized criminal enterprise may include a digital scam artist who deploys email phishing schemes that target trucking companies.
Once someone opens the email, downloads a tainted file, or clicks on a malicious link, valuable digital assets are pilfered off. The gang then uses this data to gain access to pickup and delivery information. They can print out their own paperwork that gives them seemingly legitimate pick-up credentials. Thieves can also secretly download established company routes, layover protocols, and wait for a driver.
Threat of Pilferage
Experienced criminals tend to be less impetuous than upstarts and that can prove problematic for honest truckers. One of the methods used by thieves with lengthy records is pilferage. What that basically means is that a cargo thief utilizes stealth methods to get inside the trailer and load off only a portion of valuable goods. The clever scheme relies on not stealing enough of the load to raise suspicion during transport.
In terms of risk to honest truck drivers, pilferage can put your credibility and job at risk. In cases where much of the load arrives intact, authorities are more likely to suspect drivers than look for thieves that are — for all intents and purposes — ghosts. Given the driver may have no idea when the trailer lock was picked over hundreds of miles and multiple stops, a police investigation is usually futile.
Cargo Theft Statistics Truckers Need to Know
According to the FBI’s 2018 compiled cargo theft data, stolen property exceeded $33 million and law enforcement recovered only about $7.5 million, or 22.8 percent. Those figures are driven by 181 agencies reporting 649 incidents. These are the states with the highest number and most costly cargo thefts.
- Tennessee - suffered 223 cargo theft incidents totaling more than $1.5 million
- Texas - 213 incidents totaling more than $10 million
- Florida - reported 72 thefts at more than $7.7 million
- Kentucky - 27 cargo thefts and exceeded $10.5 million
- Delaware - reported 21 thefts at a $103,000 total
Alaska, Idaho, Minnesota, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and South Dakota reported only one cargo theft during 2018. Clothing and furs led all merchandise at more than $9 million, computer products tallied more than $3 million, consumable goods $2.8 million, and truck theft topped $2.6 million.
What Truckers Can Do To Prevent Cargo Theft?
It’s important to note that everyone in the trucking profession plays a vital role in crime prevention. This includes administrative personnel who may inadvertently compromise digital files, loading dock supervisors, and hard-working truckers during their runs. These are ways everyone can responsibly deter cargo thefts:
- Leave no load unattended
- Use security cameras in freight yards
- Use high-security door locks
- Frequent only secure rest areas, truck stops, and motels
- Thoroughly vet third-party outfits through the FMSCA
- Confirm new driver identity
- Employ enterprise-level cybersecurity
- Undergo cybersecurity awareness training
- Inspect locks, doors, and loads before and after a stop or layover
It’s in every trucking industry worker’s best interest to take proactive measures to reduce and eliminate cargo theft. Making cargo theft increasingly difficult will likely result in criminals finding another way to steal. That will ultimately make everyday truckers safer as they keep the country’s goods and material flowing.