Cargo thieves getting savvier

Cargo thieves getting savvier

According to a recent analysis of cargo theft trends in the U.S., cargo thieves are getting bolder and more sophisticated, willing to take larger risks as the average value of cargo shipments – especially those hauled by trucks – continues to climb

According to a recent analysis of cargo theft trends in the U.S., cargo thieves are getting bolder and more sophisticated, willing to take larger risks as the average value of cargo shipments – especially those hauled by trucks – continues to climb. (View the Cargo Theft page)

“We’re finding cargo thieves are getting better at what they do,” Dan Burges, director of intelligence for FreightWatch International, told FleetOwner. “We’re also seeing what we call the ‘rock in the river’ scenario playing out as cargo thieves are avoiding those carriers and shippers that are beefing up security measures in search of easier targets – much the way water flows around a rock to find the path of least resistance.”

Truckloads containing $487 million of goods were stolen in the U.S. in 2009, a 67% increase over the $290 million worth of products swiped a year earlier, according to FreightWatch’s annual review of cargo theft trends. Altogether, thieves stole 859 truckloads in 2009, up from 767 loads in 2008 and 672 in 2007, the group noted – averaging out to 72 cargo thefts per month last year. (See highlights from the Cargo Theft national meeting)

“We’re also seeing more ‘active targeting’ of specific loads, with thieves becoming more aggressive and willing to take more chances than in the past,” Burges said. “Part of that is due to the higher average value of truckload shipments: in 2008, the average value hovered around $378,000 per load; last year, it reached $566,000 per load.”

Electronics represented the number-one stolen goods category in 2009, according to FreightWatch’s figures, numbering 196 thefts. That represents 23% of all cargo thefts recorded last year. Food and drink came in second at 20%, with home and garden items third, presenting 10% of all cargo thefts.

California, Florida, and Texas topped the list as the states with the highest risk for cargo theft in 2009, FreightWatch noted, followed by Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.

Burges said that it’s important to understand specific commodity theft trends within those states. For example, while Texas ranks third in overall cargo theft volume, pharmaceutical and consumer care product pilfering is relatively low. Pennsylvania, however, ranks third in pharmaceutical theft – even though it only tallied 32 cargo theft incidents in all of last year.

“The takeaway for fleet owners is that, first and foremost, you must understand it’s not you – the trucking company – thieves are targeting . It’s the specific goods you are hauling,” Burges stressed. “Understand that cargo theft is less and less an ‘ad hoc’ business – thieves are actually travelling thousands of miles to track and steal specific items.”

For this reason, Burges noted that drivers need to be brought more into the loop in terms of knowing what they are hauling so they can be more proactive in guarding against theft. “Most drivers have no idea what they are hauling – and that knowledge is critical to them if they are going to take proper precautions,” he explained. “A driver hauling a load of cell phones out of Dallas needs to be watchful, whereas a load of lumber out of West Virginia may not require as much scrutiny.”

Burges added that, thankfully, violence still remains rare around cargo theft. Of 859 truckloads stolen last year, only 36 were recorded as “warehouse burglaries” (4.1%), with less than 2% (just 13 incidents) described as “cargo hijackings.”

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