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Peak season is here … for cargo theft

While the September through December time frame has for many years often ben considered the “peak season” for freight shipments (though that’s been changing of late) it’s also the “peak season” for something else: cargo theft.

And the upcoming Labor Day holiday is generally the “kickoff” for higher-than-normal cargo theft activity, noted security consulting firm FreightWatch International.

“Holiday weekends are notorious for presenting increased cargo theft risks for transportation companies, shippers, and manufacturers,” the company noted in a recent update. “Organized theft rings are always active and recognize holiday weekends can cause shipments to be unattended for prolonged periods of time.”

FreightWatch pointed out that in 2014, the “concentration” of cargo theft activity between September and December totaled 245 incidents, with the greatest number – almost one third of the period’s total – occurring in October as a “surge” of goods flooded the supply chain ahead of “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving retail shopping extravaganza.

The firm noted that two “coveted commodities” are targeted every year during the pre-Thanksgiving shipment run-up: electronics plus clothing and apparel, comprising 23% of the reported thefts yielding average losses $1.37 million and $328,051, respectively.  

Labor Day weekend thieves are no slouches, though, as FreightWatch’s data indicates cargo thefts occurring over Labor Day weekends between 2010 and 2014 comprised and average value of $232,955, including three separate incidents with a declared value over $1.5 million.

Here are some of the more notable thefts (and where they occurred) during the last four Labor Day holiday weekends:

  • 2014 – Pilferage of $1.5 million in cell phones in Tennessee
  • 2014 – Full TL theft of $250,000 in seafood in Florida
  • 2014 – Facility theft of $200,000 of computers in California
  • 2013 – Full TL theft of $680,000 of televisions in California
  • 2013 – Fictitious pickup of $500,000 of apparel in California
  • 2012 – Pilferage of $273,000 of pharmaceuticals in Georgia
  • 2011 – Full TL theft of $400,000 of electronics in Florida
  • 2010 – Facility theft of $1.5 million of televisions in New Jersey

FreightWatch added that full TL thefts constitute 89% of cargo theft in the U.S. now, with a majority of reported cases occurring at unsecured parking areas, with many of them driver theft incidents involving either direct theft by the driver, the driver’s voluntary collusion or complicity in the crime, or a deceptive criminal posing as a legitimate carrier resource.

“This ‘modus operandi’ has evolved to often include drivers orchestrating mechanical failures, documentation of repair services, and the subsequent use of a viable alibi upon the arrival of law enforcement,” the firm noted. “This growing trend – surreptitious driver – warrants acute awareness as the shipping industry enters its peak season.”

Another growing threat: fictitious pickups. They’ve increased sharply from 2011 to 2012 and have remained on a relatively constant increase ever since, FreightWatch stressed.

“During the 2014 pre-holiday peak, 13 cases of fictitious pickups were reported in the U.S. totaling over $2.2 million in lost cargo,” the company said. “Electronics plus clothing and shoes were targeted in 38% of those crimes.”

Another reason why cargo theft activity spikes during the “peak season” is due to the supply and demand constraints that occur when freight volumes increase.

“Limitations on available carriers often necessitate more brokering, as well as re-brokering to the second, third and sometimes fourth-order carriers,” FreightWatch said. “Awareness of the threat is integral. Exercising proper due diligence when sourcing carriers is essential. In addition, ensuring that all participants in the supply chain comply with industry best practices is paramount.”

Something to keep in mind as yet another holiday – and thus a high-risk time for trucking – approaches.

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