Cargo Theft: How to Protect Your Goods and Avoid Major Losses

Preventing cargo theft

According to transportation news site Transport Topics, cargo thefts increased 20% in 2022 over the previous year, resulting in losses of $223 million. The top two locations targeted by thieves were warehouses and parking lots, while household goods and electronics were two of the most stolen products. However, even heavy commercial vehicle thefts rose by 17%.

Between the pandemic (and its ongoing supply chain challenges) and inflation driving up prices across the board, thieves are more motivated than ever to make your cargo their cargo. 

The risk of theft will always exist when transporting cargo. Still, there are steps that traffic and transportation managers can take to mitigate that risk and keep their products safe. Here’s what you need to know:

Who, Where And What Are Cargo Thieves Targeting?

Nearly 60% of small- and medium-sized retail businesses were impacted by cargo theft within the past year. In most cases, the thieves stealing cargo aren’t doing so with the intent of personal use. The goal is to steal goods and resell them. 

It’s important to realize that cargo theft typically isn't random. Often, these crimes are thoroughly planned, highly coordinated and performed by criminal organizations and other groups, rather than opportunistic individuals.

In many cases, these groups will gain intel on what types of products are being shipped from distribution centers. They may then follow trailers from those distribution centers and wait for an opportunity to strike. 

This might lead you to believe that companies transporting high-value products, such as electronics, are the most common targets for theft. However, food and beverage companies are actually the most susceptible. 

This is due to both the difficulty of tracing the products and the perishable nature of the items. Thieves want to continue stealing without being caught, and they’re more likely to get away with stealing food and beverage items due to the cost-intensive nature of trying to track them. Electronics, pharmaceuticals and industrial building materials are also frequently targeted. 

Theft also occurs at higher rates within certain states and cities. California, Texas and Florida all see the highest rates of supply chain theft due to their number of port cities (Los Angeles, Miami, etc.) and proximity to international borders. Other states like New Jersey, Illinois and others have a high number of rail yards, which have experienced high percentages of cargo theft. 

As mentioned, warehouses and parking lots are two of the most common locations in which cargo theft occurs. However, shipping facilities and truck stops are also frequent areas of theft. These incidents usually happen while trailers are left unattended or during times with decreased security and foot traffic, such as weekends and holidays.

Top Tactics of Cargo Thieves

In recent years, cargo thieves have become more sophisticated with the tactics they use to commit their crimes. However, as with any other business, cargo theft has a few tried-and-true methods that thieves typically fall back on. Knowing how they conduct their business helps you take steps to protect yours. Here are some of the most common tactics to watch out for:

  • Leakage. This is when thieves take a few items at a time from large shipments, hoping that companies won’t notice anything missing. Because many businesses within the trucking and transportation industry struggle with visibility, they can rack up huge losses over time before they even discover the problem.
  • Burglaries. Truck yards, warehouses and other commercial facilities where shipments are sitting unattended for any amount of time are prime targets for burglars.
  • Inside jobs. Whether they’re in on the theft or being paid off to stage a robbery, unscrupulous drivers sometimes help thieves make off with your cargo.
  • Hijacking. Sometimes, of course, a driver gets legitimately hijacked for the cargo they’re hauling. This usually happens when they have to take a break and leave the truck alone for a short time–just enough of a window for a thief to drive off with the entire load.
  • Impersonating a legitimate driver. Using fraud, identity theft, double brokering scams and fake carriers, thieves can grab whole loads of your goods.
  • Technology/Cyberattacks. As technology advances, so do the methods thieves use to get ahold of goods in transit. One of these methods is a two-prong attack: using a “sniffer” device to detect a GPS tracker in a truck and/or trailer, then employing a GPS jammer to prevent cops from finding the stolen load. Another tactic is using cyberattacks like phishing emails to learn pickup and delivery information. They can use this info to create their own fake documents in order to impersonate drivers.

Prevention of Cargo Theft Is Better than Finding a Cure

Keeping thieves away from your cargo can seem like a daunting task, especially with technology often helping them make off with your goods. But there are several steps you can take to keep them at bay.

Tightening up your carrier/driver vetting and authorization process can reduce or eliminate a few of these risks. Perform research on any carrier or broker you’re considering. Look them up in industry association rolls or hire a third-party vetting company to make sure they check out before you hand your cargo over. Once you’ve decided to work with a carrier, establish a positive identification process for all drivers who arrive to pick up loads. This should include driver information and a photo, along with truck identification.

  1. Do the same level of vetting for other teams with access to shipping information. This includes looking into warehouse staff and internal teams who have access to information they could potentially pass along to fraudulent drivers.
  2. Improve your inventory management process to spot leakage. Many software tools on the market can give you powerful tracking capabilities – some even down to the SKU level. Investing in this level of visibility can save you a lot over time by preventing otherwise unnoticed small thefts.
  3. Train drivers on proper security procedures. At a minimum, all drivers should give their truck a complete walk-around inspection every time they stop, to look for signs of tampered door locks and seals.
  4. Give your team training on common cyberattack methods. Learning how to spot phishing emails helps your team stop potential thieves from accessing sensitive information they can use to steal entire truckloads.
  5. Beef up security at truck yards, warehouses and anywhere else cargo sits unattended for any amount of time. Security cameras, alarms and solid locks go a long way toward discouraging thieves. Ensure all entrances, windows and doors are well lit. In addition, train your security staff to watch for surveillance of these sensitive areas.

Cargo theft is a major risk for shippers and carriers who haven’t covered all the bases. You can quickly find your profits dwindling as thieves make a fortune on your missing goods. By investing in better security and inventory management, while also training your team on better security practices, you can mitigate risk and send thieves packing.

Ryan Transportation has additional measures in place to help reduce the risk of cargo theft, including stringent carrier vetting, teams dedicated to preventing double-brokerage and more. Reach out today to learn more about how Ryan Transportation can help keep your business and your cargo safe.