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Identifying the “hot spots” for cargo theft

April 4, 2014

When it comes to cargo theft in the U.S., certain areas of the country – as well as certain types of goods – are attractive to the sticky fingers of criminals.

“Generally speaking, the Southeast, South and West have seen more incidents of cargo theft, though we have [cargo theft] cases all around the nation,” Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), told Fleet Owner.

“Why thieves target certain areas is more a function of perhaps less-traveled areas or more lucrative loads traversing certain corridors or routes in the nation,” he explained. “But warehouses are targets also and, in those instances, it is definitely the product that defines the crime. Among the most popular loads for theft are electronics – cell phones, computers – clothing, food and pharmaceuticals.”

According to research firm FreightWatch, some 951 cargo thefts throughout the U.S. in 2013, which is the same as in 2012 – a number, however, that’s the highest level of theft incidents on record. And although the number of cargo thefts has remained steady, the threat continues to grow in the U.S. due to increased organization and innovation on the part of cargo thieves, the company said.

Overall, the U.S. is ranked as high threat level for cargo thefts on the FreightWatch five-point risk scale, which ascends from low to moderate, elevated, high and, finally, to severe.

Some of the more notable trends in cargo theft identified by the firm are:

  • Full TL pharmaceutical thefts jumped by 50% in 2013.
  • California full TL pharmaceutical thefts spiked from zero to 5; Illinois tripled its theft volume of pharmaceuticals
  • Driver thefts increased by 44%.
  • Food/Drinks thefts rose 34.42% with  several food and beverage subtypes more than doubling during 2013.
  • California logged 92% of all recorded thefts of nuts.
  • Thefts targeting the electronics sector surged 35.9% in California.
  • New Jersey experienced a 158% jump in Food/Drinks thefts, with an unusual concentration on seafood
  • Southwest Dallas became a new hijacking hotspot.
  • While cargo theft plunged in Pennsylvania, it witnessed a pharmaceutical theft rate that soared above the national average.

“’Hot spots’ are numerous, but the most notorious can be identified by the confluence of the major interstates: Dallas, TX; West Memphis, TN; Fontana, CA; Atlanta, GA; etc.,” Walt Fountain, safety and enterprise security director for TL carrier Schneider National, explained to Fleet Owner.

“Thieves seem to finding and exploiting the volume and ease associated with consumable products – beverages, foodstuffs, detergent, etc.,” Fountain added. “It is very hard to distinguish stolen goods from legitimate goods in these categories, and often, the products are consumed by the time law enforcement gets a lead on their whereabouts – and it is hard to prosecute a thief when the evidence was eaten last week.”

He also pointed out that one of the real challenges in combating cargo theft is shrinking law enforcement budgets and resources.

“Let’s face it – cargo theft doesn’t compete well for resources versus crimes against persons,” Fountain noted. “Even if the cargo thieves may be using their ‘profits’ to finance other criminal behavior, the nexus is difficult to prove.”

From that perspective, he believes trucking’s best alternative to dwindling resources is a more robust sharing of information not only with law enforcement but among fellow carriers, shippers, and consignees alike.

“Illuminating the threat tactics provides us a better chance to combat the thieves,” Fountain explained. “A company shouldn’t have to personally suffer every hit in order to understand the threat environment. There should not be industry competition in the areas of security and safety. Industry improvement in these areas is in everyone’s best interests.”

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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