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Cargo theft is an industry-wide problem that isn’t slowing. Here’s why it’s gaining momentum and what fleets can do to decrease their risks of becoming the next victim.

Cargo theft is rising fast; here’s how to slow the curve

May 14, 2024
Cargo theft is an industry-wide problem that isn’t slowing. Here’s why it’s gaining momentum and what fleets can do to decrease their risks of becoming the next victim.

The first quarter of 2024 saw a continued rise in cargo theft, up a staggering 46% compared to Q1 2023 and up 10% compared to Q4 2023, according to data compiled by CargoNet.

Having recently attended the National Cargo Theft Summit organized by the Transported Asset Protection Association, Richie Daigle, enterprise account executive at Tive, shared some insights from the sold-out event. Daigle predicted cargo theft—already at an all-time high—will continue to grow.

See also: Cargo theft 2024 outlook: All-time high

“Organized crime has figured out it’s a wonderful source of money, more so than they ever have before,” Daigle told FleetOwner. “That is leading to bad actors being more tech-enabled than ever. They can operate overseas ... and still be stealing freight, whether it’s through fraud, double brokering, or through a number of different ways.”

Economic factors also play a role in the spike in cargo theft. As the cost of everything has skyrocketed due to inflation coupled with the downturn of the freight market, Daigle’s theory is that some in the transportation industry are using multiple avenues to make ends meet—even if those avenues aren’t legal.

“People start getting creative and finding additional income streams, whether that is extra space in the back of a truck that someone says, ‘Hey, I’m not going to hurt anybody. I’m not stealing anything. I’m just going to load something else here and make some money under the table,’” Daigle mused. “But all of those types of actions do pose risks to freight. They do put freight at risk. Then it’s a bit of a slippery slope.”

There are also the opportunists—those who simply take because cargo is sometimes an easy target.

“People are finding that pilferage or ripping open a container on a train that’s just sitting there forever or stopping by a truck stop and just breaking in and grabbing whatever,” Daigle explained. “Crimes of opportunity are on the rise quite a bit.”

Popular tactics used to steal cargo

Bad actors looking to profit from someone else’s cargo can pose as legitimate brokers and carriers and prey on vulnerable fleets looking to offload a shipment onto another carrier. This double-brokering practice is illegal, highly discouraged, and can be risky. Bad-acting carriers can accept a load with no intention of delivering it and instead make a profit by selling the goods as their own.

Another tactic thieves use is technology. While technology advances carrier efficiency with route optimization, workflows, and more, it also helps cargo thieves more easily access sensitive information. By hacking a fleet’s TMS, bad actors can determine what freight is being hauled on which truck, where that truck is heading, who shipped the cargo, and more. These bad actors can even access a driver’s phone number, Daigle told FleetOwner.

“They’re calling the driver, and they’re acting like they are the shipper,” Daigle explained. “They are saying, ‘Hey, there’s been a change of plans; we need to reroute you to this other warehouse.’ And the driver doesn’t know any better because, on the phone, it sounds very legit.”

In this scenario, a bad actor could have this load sent anywhere they desire unless the driver is trained to identify red flags and/or confirm the information from a known source.

Ways to prevent cargo theft

A fleet can do everything right, checking all its boxes and following every standard operating procedure to a tee, yet still find themselves a victim of cargo theft, Daigle told FleetOwner. However, there are steps and measures fleets can take to decrease the likelihood of an incident.

First and foremost, asset trackers work. One of Tive’s shipping customers received a notification from their tracker that a trailer door had opened on a shipment valued at half a million dollars. After further investigation, it was discovered that the driver was the bad actor and was in the process of unloading this customer’s shipment into an unauthorized trailer. The customer acted quickly because of the tracker’s alert and recovered their entire shipment.

See also: Experts warn fleets to prepare for record-breaking cargo theft in 2024

Another way to prevent theft is to vet potential industry partners. Do background checks. See if there are multiple businesses associated with the broker’s mailing addresses. Check drivers’ identification.

“Verifying who you’re doing business with, no matter what, is super important,” Daigle told FleetOwner.

If possible, it’s also helpful to do business with known partners and those with established relationships.

Above all, fleet owners and drivers will find that communication can go a long way in preventing cargo theft or even being put in a risky situation. The scenario where a bad actor gains access to a driver’s phone number and calls them with directions to take the cargo to another facility can easily be resolved with the driver calling their dispatcher or the original broker who facilitated the load.

“That type of redundancy and reliance on people that you know and the relationships that you have is key,” Daigle said. “People have to communicate. They have to be doubled down on their communication.”

Talk about cargo theft

As prevalent as cargo theft has become, Daigle said it’s a topic that no one seems to want to talk about.

“Nobody wants to look weak or come off to one of their potential customers like they’re being impacted [by cargo theft],” Daigle told FleetOwner. “It’s not a comfortable position to be in.”

Freight theft is an industry-wide problem, affecting multiple companies and fleet businesses. By not talking about it and not sharing information with each other, the problem could become even worse.

See also: Product spotlight: Cargo securement devices

“Be willing to talk about it. Be willing to be transparent and find out what other people are doing,” Daigle said. “Share information, rely on relationships, and utilize technology as well, such as IoT devices and ways to vet carriers and step our game up as a whole in order to combat this as best we can, and make sure that we’re doing all we can to do our jobs.”

About the Author

Jade Brasher

Senior Editor Jade Brasher has covered vocational trucking and fleets since 2018. A graduate of The University of Alabama with a degree in journalism, Jade enjoys telling stories about the people behind the wheel and the intricate processes of the ever-evolving trucking industry.    

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