It’s nearly the same for every trucker – long days on the road with few breaks, only to fight for a safe spot to sleep at night. Between the dangers associated with shady characters lurking at stops across the nation, drivers also have to be keen to one of the most expensive problems of the industry – cargo theft.
In 2015, the U.S. averaged about 63 cargo thefts per month, breaking down to around 2.1 a day. According to FreightWatch, cargo theft is ranked next to the highest threats in the industry. Considering that the average value of each theft cashed out at around $184,101, it’s estimated that nearly $30 billion in cargo is stolen annually.
Age-Old Attacks on a Modern Industry
Being somewhat romanticized, cargo theft has been around for centuries – the times of bandits attacking trading roads or pirates seizing ships at sea have merely evolved into the highly organized, international crime syndicates we see today.
The most common states to experience cargo theft are Florida, California, and Texas, with almost half of all thefts occurring between Friday and Sunday. 61% of these thefts happened at official rest stops – but just who is behind all of this?
For one, these states with a high reported incidence of cargo theft are not random – thieves need to keep their operation as streamlined as possible, and so most stolen cargo ends up at shipping ports exporting to countries like Paraguay, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica. From here it’s sold into black market distribution channels by international supply “chain gangs.”
Understanding Cargo Theft
Understanding the way that cargo thieves plan and accomplish their attacks can help dispatchers, truckers, and truck stop owners protect themselves against these crimes.
Most of the time, thieves target goods they can more easily broker through a “fence,” or someone in the business of reselling stolen property. First, they will usually start by gathering information on industrial parks or the distribution facility where the targeted cargo is made or stored. Through surveillance and sometimes even visiting the facilities undercover, perpetrators will begin to devise ways to get around alarm systems or certain security measures.
Some better-established crime syndicates may even have their own warehouses available to house the stolen cargo, while others make an attempt to quickly transfer the goods into their own trailers.
To ensure that they are not being tracked, some thieves will actually dump the goods on the side of the road or in an industrial area to be collected later. As soon as it is believed that no one has followed them, they will start breaking down the product to be resold on the black market. This process includes changing packaging, re-labeling boxes, or even creating paperwork to facilitate the cargo’s movement out of the country.
Easy Targets and Hard Consequences
Some of the most highly targeted shipments have turned out to be pharmaceuticals, consumer electronics, apparel, and food. With current economic crises, food and bottled water have seen a sharp increase in the amount of reported thefts. As can be expected, thefts of certain goods rise and fall with global market fluctuations. Not surprisingly this has a definitive ripple effect that can be felt throughout the economy.
While it’s estimated that these thefts cost somewhere in the tens of billions of dollars, calculating the exact number is difficult since crimes may go unreported. When confronted with the choice to either recover the stolen cargo or be made financially whole, most victims end up going with the later.
Considering that many thefts include perishable items like food and medicine, there’s almost no point in recovering the cargo anyway due to lack of proper handling and the liabilities that come along with it.
Additionally, companies who have been victims of theft risk the tarnishing of their reputations in the public eye. Current or potential customers may have their worst fears confirmed in that the company apparently lacks the proper security standards and protocols, regardless of the real story.
Fighting International Crime with Local Efforts
To combat this issue, the National Cargo Theft Task Force has pulled together the efforts of law enforcement, insurance agencies, and various trucking companies to get a handle on this situation.
Of the possible solutions offered, technology is deciding factor in preventing thefts as well as reclaiming stolen goods. GPS tracking tools and geofencing solutions ensure vehicles remain on their ascribed routes, alerting dispatchers to any foul play or funny business. Some devices even allow vehicles to be immobilized remotely and recovered.
Besides the push for higher tech in trucks industry-wide, it doesn’t hurt to cover the basics with various locks and by executing regular safety practices. Staying alert and responding to potentially suspicious activities can make a difference in how vulnerable a company’s assets are.
Although there is no sure-fire way to prevent the preying of international crime syndicates upon American truck companies, thoroughly screening employees and knowing the ins and outs of your supply chain can only help with security.
Cargo theft may not be an overnight fix. Yet, staying vigilant day in and day out means you’ll at least be watching when thieves rear their ugly heads.