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3 Ways Diligence Can Prevent Cargo Theft

Posted by Sean Murphy on Aug 18, 2022

Cargo theft just won’t slow down. That’s because it’s a moneymaker for crime rings and experienced criminals. They can steal thousands of dollars of products in minutes. Where do they commit cargo theft? TT Club reports that one-fourth of all cargo thefts happen in facilities. Right behind is the theft of containers or trailers.

Moreover, CargoNet reports cargo theft is growing in 2022. The company said incidents went up by more than 5% compared to the fourth quarter in 2021. Add inflation and supply chain snarls to the equation and it’s a circular problem with no end in sight.

Cargo theft happens because demand is high while supply is low. As thieves steal large amounts of cargo, it further reduces supply. As a result, it drives up the prices for items with a shortage. It’s a vicious cycle.

And cargo theft is expensive. The average loss value per theft during the third quarter of 2021 was $337,000 per U.S. Cargo Theft Report from Sensitech. It is costing companies and consumers $30 billion according to WJCL 22. The numbers are most likely dramatically higher. Cargo theft goes largely underreported for different reasons. One is because there’s no single system to track it all. Two, the ones that track it don’t always categorize theft in the same way.

Contrary to what people think, cargo theft is not a victimless crime. Everyone pays for it by paying higher prices.

How Cargo Theft Happens

There are two types of cargo theft. The most common is straight-out theft. Simply, thieves steal the truckload or tractor and trailer. Or they open the doors and snatch whatever they can. They watch for trucks and areas left unattended and take advantage of these opportunities to steal. Thefts take place at truck stops, parking lots, and drop lots.

Some crime rings and experienced crooks monitor trucks for signs of refrigeration. This often indicates the truck may have food or pharmaceutical items. Because it’s consumed, food theft is hard to trace. Additionally, there are brazen people who follow tractor-trailers for up to 250 miles for an opportunity to swipe the cargo.

The other kind of theft is strategic cargo theft. This is a more involved fraud which could be fictitious pickups, identity theft, and double brokering. These sophisticated crime rings have the tools to pull it off.

For fictitious pickups, law breakers con people by using fake IDs or setting up a bogus business to divert and swipe cargo. It requires more cunning minds because they rely on fraud and deception tactics to trick brokers, shippers, and carriers into handing over the cargo to the thieves instead of the actual carrier. They pull this off by resorting to identity theft, fictitious pick-ups, acting as carriers, or a combination of approaches.

They know how the supply chain works. They think through everything, even deadlines, as they attack as close to that deadline as possible. This is typically on Friday afternoons or at the end of weekends. As workers rush to beat approaching deadlines, workers tend to make mistakes. The crime rings stand by ready to take advantage of it.

It can be days before anyone figures out a fictitious pick-up theft took place. Apparently, crime rings find ways to access online details about carrier information, permit numbers, insurance information, and requests for trucks to shiploads.

3 Ways to Be Diligent about Preventing Cargo Theft

The best way to protect your cargo is with a layered security approach.

1. Use smart locks, sensors, GPS trackers, and seals

An easy way to deter cargo theft is to use smarter locks, different sensors and GPS trackers. They’re getting smaller, harder to find, and less expensive. One option is high-security rear door locks and air cuff locks. These lock the dashboard brake valve which stops the unauthorized movement of the truck and trailer.

Experienced thieves will create replicas of security devices with a 3D printer. In 10 minutes, they can produce an almost identical copy of ISO 17712 high-security cargo seals and locks. This lets them tamper with the original seals and replace them with the 3D-printed seal they created. To fight this, you should randomly change the colors of the seals.

Drivers need to pay attention to their surroundings and walk around the tractor-trailer every time they return from stepping away. The driver should inspect and confirm all seals and locks remain intact. Experts recommend not putting information that reveals the contents of the cargo or what the tractor-trailer contains. While this won’t stop crime gangs who have no fear of the risks involved in stealing steal the cargo, it can reduce temptation.

There are light sensors that can report subtle changes in ambient light. It could be a sign that truck doors have been open. Another sensor option is a temperature sensor that can alert to temperature drops. When this happens, then the cargo may have left a refrigerated trailer. These sensors can send the alert to dispatchers who can contact the truck driver to investigate the discrepancy.

2. Educate drivers and employees on processes and procedures

Driver and employee education can go a long way to help deter cargo theft. Explain how cargo theft affects the business and describe the tactics thieves use. Share as many details as you can about cargo theft problems. They’ll feel empowered. Inform them of the things being stolen, where, and how. Advise they should avoid leaving trailers unattended and try to stay away from hotspots for cargo theft.

An important factor is to have processes and procedures. This would include things like conducting background checks on all drivers and new employees. All employees, new and current, must undergo regular security training on basic protocols.

Processes and procedures are only as good as the people who follow them. That’s why it’s important to hold training. They also need to understand how seals work. Keep everyone vigilant by conducting security training and reviewing processes at least once a year or more often.

Fortify your processes and procedures by ensuring the shipment process requires trucking companies to share information with your company at least 24 hours before pick-up. The information will contain the names of the driver and carrier, truck number, and insurance details. You can verify information through Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) and the Internet. Contacting your customers and partners would be better.

Don’t let trailers sit overnight filled with cargo. The process should clearly state not to pack the trailer until right before it is scheduled to depart. Don’t release the load to the driver until after you’ve photographed the driver, truck, and bill of lading plus take the driver’s fingerprints.

Crime rings will observe the action near distribution centers. Once the drivers pick up their load and pull away, they follow the truck. Their goal is to catch them at the truck stop when they stop for fuel, food, or rest. Tell your drivers to be ready to drive at least 200 miles before stopping. Crime gangs will typically give up after 150 to 200 miles.

3. Use remote video surveillance

When cargo theft happens, it’s unlikely the police will catch the culprit. This is where remote video surveillance helps. You can’t always have bodies in these areas. But cameras can be there, and a trained security professional can watch all of them. All footage is saved for access at any time.

If someone gets away with cargo theft, the video surveillance system can help catch them. That’s because video surveillance with high-resolution cameras can help identify the person even if all the information is fake.

Remote video surveillance takes a proactive approach to security and helps avert crime. Use motion-activated surveillance cameras with the fleet, loading docks, and parking areas. You might consider looking into license plate recognition and long-range surveillance. These technologies can help capture identifying information such as license plates, drivers’ faces, and vehicle numbers.

No matter what happens, the high-resolution cameras can help identify everyone involved in the cargo theft. The system saves all the footage for later review and sharing with law enforcement. Anytime a company discovers a problem other than theft, days after it happens, they can have analysts search the security camera recordings to figure out what happened.

You can take security a step further by using video surveillance systems that rely on a combination of video analytics and human monitoring operators. The analytics part of the equation watches for specific scenarios. As soon as it finds a potential match, it notifies the operator who responds as appropriate. It could be using an on-site speaker to issue a warning, calling the police, or both.

Remote video surveillance can do more than stop crime. For example, in one incident, an employee driving a company’s fleet truck hit another vehicle during the daytime. No one onsite noticed the incident. Fortunately, it was caught. The trained monitoring operator located in a remote location away from the property spotted it. They zoomed in on the truck to capture the license plate, fleet number, and driver’s face.

For a deeper dive into issues affecting fleets and the transportation industry, pick up The Effects of Crime on the Transportation Industry white paper. You’ll learn about the trends affecting the industry. To learn more about cargo theft deterrents, please contact us.