Annual cargo theft losses in the United States total $12 billion, with thieves targeting specific commodities such as pharmaceuticals and high-tech products. National crime statistics also show steady growth in armed robberies of truck shipments. Losses from the high-tech industry amount to $5 billion a year, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents who outlined cargo theft trends during the TMW Systems Inc annual user group meeting in Cleveland OH recently. Sixty percent of thefts of high-tech shipments occur in transit.
“Profits from high-tech products are better than drugs,” said Stuart Shoaff, FBI supervisory special agent. “In addition, the penalties for getting caught are lower. A single Pentium memory chip is worth more than an ounce of powder cocaine, and you can put a million dollars' worth of chips in the trunk of a car.”
Bulk cargoes such as gasoline are not being targeted now. However, Shoaff said the FBI remains very concerned that hazardous materials could be a terrorist target.
Organized groups heavily involved in cargo theft include ethnic gangs from Russia, Eastern European locations (Yugoslavia, Albania, and Croatia), and Armenia. Asian street gangs are active in cargo theft on the West Coast. Groups from Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru also are involved.
Shoaff said the trucking industry can help fight cargo theft by improving security and by reporting incidents as soon as they are detected. “We need immediate reports of thefts from the trucking industry,” he said. “We need serial numbers or lot numbers off the cargo to help in recovery.”
To fight cargo theft, the FBI has 86 agents assigned to task forces. The bureau relies strongly on outside help from local and state law enforcement agencies.