Cargo thieves are increasingly using high-tech tactics to steal freight and the incidents of such thievery have more than doubled in the past year, according to a report by Business Insurance.
Thieves use the Internet and set up a shell company website impersonating a legitimate trucking firm and then place bids on freight broker load boards to book freight.
“If they win work off the board, they walk in and take the cargo,” according to Richard Kirk, vice president of CargoNet, a Jersey City, NJ, division of the Insurance Services Offices Inc.’s crime analytics unit.
“This is a new way that these thieves are operating,” Kirk said.
A rash of this type of theft, termed “deceptive pickups,” occurred during the first half of this year: 15 vs. just three during the same period last year, according to FreightWatch International (USA) Inc., an Austin, Texas-based logistics security agency that tracks cargo thefts.
Barry Tarnef, assistant vp and senior risk specialist, loss control services, at Chubb Group of Insurance Cos. in Warren, N.J., said his company reported 32 such incidents in 2010, double the number in 2009.
Cargo thieves are becoming increasingly sophisticated, according to Tarnef. They will set up a legitimate trucking company on paper, gather all the necessary approvals from the Dept. of Transportation and other sources, and even go so far as to buy cargo insurance to have a policy available to show clients, he said.
“They may take a couple of loads; and on the third load, as people get comfortable with them, they steal it,” he said.
The poor economy is exacerbating the Internet cargo theft problem, according to Brandon Stroud, vp-loss prevention at Falvey Cargo Underwriting Ltd. in Kingstown, RI.
“In a down economy, shippers have slim budgets,” he said, so are more likely to turn to electronic load boards to book loads. “The sites are not doing the vetting,” he added.
Consumer electronics, nonperishable food, apparel and pharmaceuticals remain high-target items for thieves, according to Jim Howse, a partner with The Transportation Group, a Houston-based brokerage unit of Hub International Ltd.
“They are targeting high-value commodities. No one is stealing trucks full of Cheerios.”
There has also been a dramatic increase in theft of loads containing metals such as aluminum, copper and steel, CargoNet’s Kirk said.
“We have seen a significant increase in the theft of metals” as prices for those materials have risen sharply in recent years.”
FreightWatch says metal cargo thefts soared 62.8% in the first half of the year, to 57 incidents with an average loss valued at $209,619.